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Supremes: Wrongly imprisoned man can sue Fulton court clerk
By JIM WALLS
A child molestor who spent 22 months too long in prison can sue Fulton County court officials for mishandling papers that would have led to his release, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled today.
Former Fulton County Superior Court Clerk Juanita Hicks cannot claim immunity from liability, the high court ruled in a unanimous decision, because the error breached her statutory duty.
Calvin McGee was sentenced to prison for child molestation with a release date of 2003 — later moved up by the judge by 25 months. According to briefs filed in the case, Hicks’ office filed the judge’s amended sentence but did not forward it to the state Department of Corrections.
Hicks and a court employee claimed sovereign immunity when McGee filed a $22 million suit in 2003 upon his release from prison, nearly two years late. They claimed they did the right thing by simply filing the judge’s revised order because it was not marked as a new sentence, did not come with a “final disposition” form attached and did not direct them to notify prison officials.
The Georgia Court of Appeals eventually ruled that Hicks and an employee were not immune from liability in McGee’s case, a decision the Supreme Court affirmed today. Officials in her office should have known McGee’s sentence had been reduced and should have passed it on to Corrections within 30 days, as state law requires:
“By its plain language this order modified McGee’s criminal sentence by reducing the maximum amount of time he was required to be incarcerated. … [Hicks’ employee] neither read the order nor had received any training that would have aided her in recognizing the order as a sentencing order.”
Georgia law, the court wrote, does not
“excuse clerks of the courts from complying with the duties it imposes in those situations when trial judges do not attach final disposition forms to their sentencing orders or do not include language in the sentence directing the clerk of the court to comply with the duty [the statute] imposes solely upon the clerk.”
Hicks retired in 2007 with a $105,000-a-year pension after serving nearly 19 years as Superior Court clerk. Her hand-picked successor, Cathlene “Tina” Robinson, quickly hired Hicks as a consultant, paying her nearly $74,000 despite a lack of evidence that Hicks ever did any work, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2008.