NC appeals judges vacate removal order of local court clerk
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A trial judge’s 2020 order removing an elected court clerk from the job in a central North Carolina county was vacated Tuesday by a state appeals court, which raised procedural and constitutional questions about the sanction.
The three judges on the Court of Appeals panel ruled unanimously to return the matter involving then-Franklin County Clerk of Superior Court Patricia Chastain to the county courthouse.
Superior Court Judge Tom Lock removed Chastain because of numerous actions that “demonstrated a reckless disregard for the high standards of her office,” he wrote.
According to Lock’s order, Chastain’s actions included handing out gift certificates to a local nutrition and health store to a pool of potential jurors and letting a judicial candidate speak to a jury pool. Chastain asked the district attorney on behalf of citizens to reduce or dismiss traffic and minor criminal offenses, the order said, and she showed up unannounced at the home of a couple to say she was mediating a dispute between them and their neighbors.
Chastain appealed her removal. The appeals court panel said it was unclear whether Lock removed her because her acts rose to the level of “corruption or malpractice” in her office or simply from “misconduct” — something Lock lacked constitutional authority to perform.
His sanction also was based in part on acts not listed in an affidavit, violating Chastain’s due process rights, Judge Chris Dillon wrote for the panel. The appeals judges gave directions on any future hearings that occur.