WRAL Investigates

Franklin court clerk loses job over misconduct

Posted October 16, 2020 12:57 p.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2020 7:39 p.m. EDT

— A judge on Friday ordered that Franklin County Clerk of Superior Court Patricia Burnette Chastain be removed from office for a pattern of willful misconduct.

"The nature and type of [Chastain's] misconduct in office, the frequency of its occurrence, the impact which knowledge of her misconduct would likely have on the prevailing attitudes of the community and [her] reckless disregard for the high standards of the Office of Clerk of Superior Court warrant her permanent removal from the office," Superior Court Judge Tom Lock wrote in an 11-page ruling.

Chastain has been suspended since July based on complaints she repeatedly overstepped her authority, 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 during a recent an administrative hearing on Thompson's complaint that any mistakes she made were simply the result of trying to help.

"Ms. Chastain just couldn't stay in her lane," Boyd Sturges, the attorney who represented Thompson in the administrative hearing, said Friday.

Lock noted that Chastain's conduct wasn't isolated to the Diaz case:

  • She handed out gift certificates from a local merchant to members of a jury pool.
  • She allowed a political candidate to speak to members of a different jury pool.
  • She asked the chief District Court judge to strike arrest warrants and pushed the district attorney to reduce or dismiss charges in numerous cases.
  • She demanded to see inmates in the county jail so often that the sheriff had to deny her all access to the facility.
  • She bad-mouthed the chief District Court judge in public and tried to exert control over the chief magistrate.
  • A state audit found the clerk's office didn't comply with proper accounting procedures.

"Even if [Chastain's] acts of misconduct viewed in isolation do not constitute willful misconduct, her knowing and persistently repeated conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice itself rises to the level of willful misconduct," Lock wrote in his ruling.

Chastain was heartbroken by the ruling and is considering an appeal, according to her attorneys

"For over seven years, she has been devoted to and faithfully serving the citizens of Franklin County, many of whom are facing life's most difficult events when they come to the courthouse, and she was looking forward to the opportunity to continue to serve," a statement issued by her attorneys reads. "She and her staff have always sought to be responsive and immediately available to the public; to treat each person with dignity, respect, kindness and compassion; and to be a resource for people rather than a warehouse for court records."

"There's a sadness to it," Sturges said, "because certainly no one takes any joy for having such an outcome have to occur."

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