WRAL Investigates

Franklin court clerk defends her actions in bid to keep her job

Posted September 29, 2020 5:28 p.m. EDT

— Franklin County Clerk of Superior Court Patricia Burnette Chastain became emotional Tuesday as she tried to explain herself and fend off an attempt to remove her from office.

Chastain was suspended in July, based on allegations of misconduct, some of which were the subject of a WRAL Investigates story in February.

She showed up unannounced last December at the home of a Louisburg couple involved in a dispute with one of their neighbors to say that she was mediating the dispute, even though the couple already had obtained a restraining order from a local judge against their neighbor.

"You're not saying what the judge said," Adam Diaz told Chastain, according to video from a body-worn camera of a deputy called to the scene.

"I'm telling you the law," Chastain replied, telling Diaz and his wife that they were abusing the county 911 system to report their neighbor was violating the restraining order and threatening to take legal action against them.

Jeffrey Thompson, an attorney for the Diazes, filed a formal complaint against Chastain seeking her removal.

"In no way, shape or form is that her job," Thompson told WRAL.

Chastain argued Tuesday during an administrative hearing on Thompson's complaint that any mistakes she made were simply the result of trying to help.

"In the heat of the moment – I am the Franklin County clerk of court, my jurisdiction is Franklin County – I didn't say it right," she said of her encounter with the Diazes. "I used the wrong words.

"I certainly, when I saw it on television, apologized to Mr. Thompson," she added. "I thought I was helping."

Diaz testified that he felt berated by Chastain.

District Judge John Davis, who had settled the property dispute involving the Diazes and their neighbor, said Chastain misrepresented the order he wrote.

Questioned about overstepping her role to mediate and give legal advice, Chastain told the court she felt she went to the neighborhood on a social visit to resolve a dispute.

"I interact a lot with the public just in a general way, not in an official way. But if I could use my title to help people, that's what I try to do," she said. "I have compassion for the people who are coming here [to the courthouse] and calling here because, other than adoption, everybody that comes here is in crisis."

In other testimony Tuesday, Franklin County Sheriff Kent Winstead said that he banned Chastain from the county jail. He has said previously that she made repeated attempts to force her way in to see suspects.

Chastain also has been accused of giving gift certificates to jurors and inviting a political candidate to campaign to a jury pool.

Her attorney, Roger Smith, has argued that the mistakes she made don't rise to the level of willful misconduct, which is the standard for a public official to be removed.

Testimony in the hearing will continue Wednesday morning.

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