A 2020 trial judge’s order removing an elected clerk from office in a central North Carolina county was overturned on Tuesday by a state appeals court, which raised questions of procedural and constitutional regarding the sanction.
The three judges on the Court of Appeals panel unanimously decided to send the case involving Franklin County Superior Court Clerk Patricia Chastain to the county courthouse.
Superior Court Judge Tom Lock removed Chastain over numerous actions that “demonstrated a reckless disregard for the high standards of his office,” he wrote.
According to Lock’s order, Chastain’s actions included giving gift certificates to a local nutrition and health store to a group of potential jurors and allowing a candidate for justice to speak to a group of jurors. Chastain asked the district attorney on behalf of the citizens to reduce or dismiss traffic offenses and minor criminal offenses, the order said, and she showed up unannounced at a couple’s home to say that she was mediating a dispute between them and their neighbours.
Chastain has appealed his dismissal. The appeals court panel said it was unclear whether Lock fired her because her actions rose to the level of ‘corruption or misconduct’ in her office or simply ‘misconduct’ – something which Lock did not have the constitutional authority to perform.
His punishment was also 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 future hearings that would take place.