WRAL Investigates

Local court clerk suspended, faces removal after allegations of misconduct, erratic behavior

Posted July 13, 2020 4:15 p.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2020 12:19 p.m. EDT

— Franklin County Clerk of Superior Court Patricia Burnette Chastain was suspended Monday and faces permanent removal after allegations of a series of actions that overstepped her bounds.

This suspension comes on the heels of the Franklin County Democratic Party asking state party leaders to remove Chastain from the local executive committee and backing a judicial review to determine whether or not she should be removed.

The order for her suspension reads: "The Court, after review of the affidavit, determines probable cause exists to enter an order suspending Ms. Chastain as the Franklin County Clerk of Superior Court and further determines this court shall set a hearing to determine if Ms. Chastain should be removed."

A list of misconduct, overstepped boundaries and concerns of substance abuse

The order provides a list of various reasons for Chastain's suspension. According to the order, Chastain is being investigated and suspended for:

1. Improperly distributing gift certificates to potential jurors in a very serious assault case back in 2016.

2. Improperly endorsing a candidate for judicial office in front of a captive audience of potential jurors in January, 2020.

3. Appearing at the Franklin County Detention Center, demanding to see Oliver Funes Machada, who was being held there on the charge of First Degree Murder. "She demanded to see the prisoner because she wanted to give him a preliminary hearing regarding his rights. However, Ms. Chastain knew at this time that the hearing had already occurred in the Magistrate's Office," reads the order. This was in 2017.

4. In December 2019, she visited the personal homes of people involved in a case that was not under her jurisdiction. This incident was recorded on the body camera of a deputy. This incident became a focus for WRAL Investigates in December.

5. In January, 2020, she spent hours trying to "improperly" mediate a child custody case, which was under the jurisdiction of the Franklin County District Court.

6. Without having legal authority to do so, she sent out orders for a deceased person's medical records on at least three occasions.

7. In June, 2020 a state auditor had several findings of material misconduct. Chastain blaimed the training of her staff; however, officials said training would have been her responsibility regardless.

8. In June 2020, she is accused of being unprofessional and incoherent while on an official phone call with the Franklin County Chief Magistrate. "She yelled and cursed and babbled in incoherent and incomplete sentences," said the order. Officials suspect she may have been intoxicated.

9. Officials highly suspect Chastain of substance abuse and being intoxicated at work. "Chastain keeps irregular office hours and is often seen at work in an erratic state, which is strongly suggestive of serious substance abuse," said the order.

Attorney for a family impacted by Chastain's misconduct in December speaks out

"She sort of practices vigilante justice and it embarrasses everyone," said Jeff Thompson, an attorney for the family whose personal home she visited in December of 2019.

The incident was caught on a body-cam of a deputy. She was not within her jurisdiction to visit the family, according to the order for her suspension.

"Her actions over the past several years have been such that she's in willful violation of the oath of her office," said Thompson.

Thompson believes her suspension was necessary. Overall, he said, her actions in the clerk's office have made it a laughing stock.

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