Stuart Brown will be allowed to keep his job if the many mistakes made in his first month on the job stop, County Commission members said Wednesday. The commission’s Security and Corrections Committee heard details of the complaints that have come from judges, police officers and his boss, new Chief Magistrate Lorrie Miller who was hired at the same time that attorney Brown was brought on as a magistrate.
General Sessions Court Judges Lila Statom and Gary Starnes answered questions from the committee during an hour and a half meeting Wednesday morning regarding their experiences with Magistrate. Brown. They were invited because errors in their cases were documented. If other judges had been asked to the meeting, they would be talking about hearsay, said Judge Statom.
Judge Statom had received paperwork on a warrant issued by another magistrate. Magistrate Brown was called to look at the warrant and to set a bond. The warrant was denied even though another magistrate had determined cause, she said. This had also happened in one of Judge Clarence Shattuck’s cases, where the police officer had to release the suspect. In her case, the suspect was still in custody for another violation. Judge Statom said in Judge Shattuck’s case, it could have been a lack of knowledge about procedures, but in her case he had been informed. “I just don’t know how it could have happened,” she said.
Another issue is that after incidents like this, it is the police officer’s decision as to where to take a case, and they will avoid a magistrate and come to the judges, according to Judge Statom.
A big mistake was made in an order of protection case of Judge Gary Starnes, it was stated. “It concerns me, I found it very disturbing,” said the judge. In this case, the defendant was ordered to have no contact with the victim as a condition of the bond, but contact continued. Paperwork should have been filed and a bond set, he said and none of this was done. As a result, that person walked out of the jail. The police officer involved had to arrest, book and have a bond set again. That never should have happened, said Judge Starnes. Officers will not go to a magistrate if they think their case would be thrown out, he said.
Judge Starnes said, “I do not understand why mistakes keep happening, but once one is made you shouldn’t do it again. I am not uneasy now, but will be real uneasy with him continuing if it does not get better, said Judge Starnes. Chief Magistrate has documented many mistakes and that is what she is supposed to do, said the judge. “She is the supervisor and you are the boss, so it is your responsibility to decide,” said Judge Statom.
Alicia Poe from the human resources department spoke of potential liability for Hamilton County regarding documented, continuing mistakes and if they are serious enough to have repercussions. There is especially concern with the order of protection case, she said.
Magmistrate Brown had the opportunity to speak, saying that he began working 10-hour shifts on June 3, three days after being hired, and said that most of the mistakes occurred in the first four days. “If you do not have training, you will make mistakes,” he said. Ms. Miller met with him on June 11 and told him she did not believe he could do the job. She asked him to retain his health insurance because he might be fired. At the end of June, he received a letter outlining mistakes. He told the committee that he would be willing to do more training in order to improve performance.
Chief Magistrate Miller said it gave her no pleasure to recommend termination, but from the beginning, she said, mistakes happened. She said she explained things to him and the next shift he made the same mistake. She told the committee that she had already provided additional training, and given written and verbal instructions but she had received no response. Magistrate Brown failed to correct mistakes that he had been made aware of, and she added that 11 search warrants are missing. It could be a comprehension problem or maybe he is disorganized, she said. When asked, she replied that additional training would not rectify the problem in a short period of time.
Several concerns were expressed by the commissioners. “Do we provide training to all magistrates?” asked Sabrena Smedley. “I understood during interviews that they were ready to go to work from day one.” The other three can ask for it, answered County Attorney Rheubin Taylor. Ms. Poe from H.R. said she was concerned that it is claimed he needs training on the law. “He should already be there,” she said. Commissioner Tim Boyd said that Magistrate Brown is a practicing lawyer in criminal law and should have adequate knowledge of criminal law. And, he has already had training from another magistrate. Retraining has not been done in the past, said Commissioner Fairbanks. The budget may have to be amended to pay for the training, said County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
A big concern for all the commissioners is exposure for liability, especially since the commissioners are aware of the multiple problems, and the fact that Magistrate Brown has allegedly lost 11 warrants. It is county liability plus a livelihood issue, said Chairman Fairbanks. Magistrate. Brown closed his law practice to take this job and there is an issue with breaking a contract. His job performance also places the county in enormous liability for protecting citizens, said Commissionier Boyd, but a number cannot be put on losing 11 warrants.
He told the entire commission that because of performance concerns about Stuart Brown over the last five-six weeks, termination was recommended. Commissioner Joe Graham made a motion to provide proper training and, if he still cannot do his job 30 days after the training begins, he will be terminated. Attorney Taylor will find the person to do the training for $60 per hour.
Before the vote Attorney Taylor requested a recess to inform the commissioners regarding conversations about a threatened lawsuit.
The motion passed on a vote of six to three, with Commissioners Chester Bankston, Smedley and Fairbanks the only votes against.