A recently retired Chatham County judge will try a petition on whether to remove from office Rebecca McFerrin, the suspended McIntosh County clerk of court.
Judge Micheal L. Karpf, who took senior status in January, was appointed this week to take over the jury trial of a petition that District Attorney Tom Durden filed to remove McFerrin.
Durden filed the petition April 17, less than a month after Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order suspending McFerrin for 60 days and recommending that the district attorney consider filing a removal petition.
Robert Russell, a long-time McIntosh County resident and chief Superior Court judge of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, had been assigned to the case, but he and all the other judges stepped away from the matter April 30. Although all the judges had dealings with McFerrin in court, Russell’s conflict of interest was more pronounced. He and State Court Judge C. Jean Bolin had written former Gov. Nathan Deal in October asking for an investigation of McFerrin’s conduct in office. Kemp acted on Russell’s and Bolin’s complaint after taking office in January.
The one-sentence order of recusal has no judges’ names but says simply “all judges in the Atlantic Judicial Circuit” voluntarily recuse themselves.
Jeffrey H. Kight, the administrative judge for the 22-county First Judicial District, appointed Karpf to the case on Tuesday.
Karpf has 40 years experience on the bench in three Savannah area courts, first as a Recorders Court Judge in Savannah then as a Chatham County State Court judge and Superior Court judge. He decided to not seek re-election last year and his son, Benjamin, won the election to replace him.
Kemp appointed two other clerks of court and the state attorney general to investigate the complaint against McFerrin. In its investigative report, the panel asserted that McFerrin had failed to file some criminal cases in the court database. As a result, jailed defendants did not have timely bond hearings because there was no record of the charges in the court database, the report said.
In the case of a woman jailed on traffic and drug charges, the panel said McFerrin had purposely delayed action because she was angered by calls from the woman’s family. Because the woman was sick and in need of medical care, the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office bypassed McFerrin’s office and went directly to a judge to have the defendant released on her own recognizance.
McFerrin was also accused of, among other things, the following:
• Deleting from the court records a 101 mph speeding ticket against her husband.
• Conducting a chaotic jury selection process including excusing potential jurors without authority. Losing records of court proceedings.
• Substituting her own signature line for that of the presiding judge on some court documents.
The report also says McFerrin justified her actions to judges by saying the same people who elected the judges had elected her. She also claimed she had the authority to delete her husband’s ticket, the report says.
Confronted by the judges, McFerrin placed the ticket back into the court database, and it has been adjudicated in State Court.
No date has been set for the jury trial on the removal petition, but Karpf has scheduled a status conference for 2 p.m. Wednesday.