Prosecutors want to pursue illegally dismissed DWI cases
Posted July 29, 2010
Smithfield, N.C. — Authorities on Thursday asked a judge for permission to refile charges in more than 30 driving while impaired cases that were at the heart of a ticket-fixing scheme in Johnston County.
Six people, including a former prosecutor, pleaded guilty early this year to illegally dismissing DWIs and other tickets. Thirty-four cases that were dismissed involved alcohol-related offenses, mostly drunken driving.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said she wants to refile the DWI charges because former Assistant District Attorney Cyndi Jaeger didn't have the authority to dismiss the cases.
"All 34 dismissals were filed after the date (Jaeger resigned as a prosecutor)," Doyle told District Judge Joseph Setzer. "Her signature was on each one. She no longer had any authority to dismiss cases."
Jaeger pleaded guilty in February to 10 counts each of felony obstruction of justice and altering official case records. She is serving a three-year prison sentence.
Defense attorneys Chad Lee, Lee Hatch, Vann Sauls and Jack McLamb and court clerk Portia Snead pleaded guilty in January to obstruction of justice charges. Lee and Hatch surrendered their law licenses and were sentenced to prison, while the others were placed on probation.
Seventy dismissal forms with Jaeger's signature on them were filed after she left her job in September 2007. All of the defendants in the cases were clients of the four attorneys – most were represented by Lee, a former Johnston County prosecutor – and Snead deleted the attorneys' names from at least two cases from the courthouse computer system.
State Bureau of Investigation agent Randy Myers said Lee, Hatch and Jaeger devised the scheme when Jaeger put in notice that she would be leaving the Johnston County District Attorney's office. The lawyers told investigators that Jaeger asked them to file the dismissal forms after she left, Myers said.
Some of the dismissed cases involved repeat offenders, alcohol levels more than two times the legal limit or people were later charged with DWI again.
Frank Wood, the attorney for one of the men whose DWI charge was refiled, argued that the statute of limitations has expired for the cases. His client's case dates to April 2006.
Setzer said he needed more time to rule on the matter.
"I've never had anything like this in my 30 years," Setzer said. "This is very unique."
Terry Berg, one of the seven of the defendants who were in court Thursday, said she is distressed about the prospect of fighting her case all over again.
"It's been three years. I lost my money," Berg said, adding that she doesn't have money to hire another attorney.
Another of the defendants, John Hubbard, said he feels victimized by the judicial system.
"I did what I was supposed to do in good faith, based on the system. I was defrauded by the system," Hubbard said. "It's still hanging over me when I was told by my attorney and by the court system that it was over."