Old warrant surprise in Fulton court
2:10 pm, November 16th, 2012
Calvin McGee hoped to win a big verdict for the nearly two years too long that he spent in prison for a child molestation conviction. But a Fulton jury had little sympathy for him, awarding him just $50,000. And he went directly from the courtroom to jail.
That’s what happened when sheriff’s deputies used an old warrant to lock up McGee again, minutes after a jury delivered the verdict Thursday.
The deputies surrounded McGee and handcuffed his hands behind his back. McGee asked why he was being arrested, and the deputies told him he had violated his probation. McGee’s attorney, Ralph Goldberg, had left the courtroom moments earlier for post-trial discussions with the defense and for juror interviews.
Goldberg said he and McGee didn’t see the arrest coming, and they weren’t aware of the warrant that had been pending since Aug. 10, 2011 for McGee’s failure to report to probation after his release from imprisonment.
“It’s pretty outrageous,” Goldberg said. “It reminds me of why I sued these people in the first place.”
McGee is left having to find a criminal defense attorney while Goldberg contemplates whether and how to appeal the verdict, which fell far short of the $2.5 million McGee initially sought.
McGee had sued former Fulton County Superior Court Clerk Juanita Hicks and Deputy Clerk Geneva Blanton, blaming them for a paperwork mistake that left him imprisoned 22 months past his court-ordered released date.
The clerk’s office provided a copy of the warrant, which said McGee didn’t report for probation within 48 hours of his release in July 2011 as he had agreed to the previous April. The warrant said McGee’s last registered address was a vacant house and his whereabouts were unknown.
Goldberg disagreed, saying authorities knew McGee was living with his brother, and McGee appeared in court several times while the warrant was pending.
The verdict amount was equivalent to the amount of income McGee testified he lost during his extra stay in prison. Goldberg had suggested to jurors that they could award McGee $1,000 per day or $100 per hour for each of the 645 days he should have been free.
“The jury instead awarded nominal damages to Mr. McGee,” wrote County Attorney R. David Ware in an email. “The jury’s wisdom reflects their appreciation of the difficult position the Clerk is in when documents are not properly presented related to sentencing.”
McGee claimed in his lawsuit that Hicks and Blanton were responsible for failing to forward a judge’s order authorizing his 2001 release to the state Department of Corrections, resulting in his wrongfully prolonged incarceration. McGee’s release date was moved up because he originally hadn’t been credited for the 25 months he’d served on probation following a 1993 guilty plea on child molestation charges. After violating his probation in 1996 by failing to register as a sex offender, McGee was sentenced to 20 years, with seven to serve in prison and the balance on probation.
County attorneys told the jury that McGee’s attorney had filed the judge’s order with Blanton, a docket clerk, who put it in McGee’s case file but never forwarded it to the office’s sentencing desk, which would then notify the Department of Corrections.
Blanton and Hicks testified that their job duties didn’t include reading orders to determine where they should go.
“While we maintain that our clients’ alleged negligence was not the proximate cause of any injury to Mr. McGee, we are gratified that the jury did not elect to punish two lay people who should not be expected to play lawyer,” Ware said.
Blanton was held responsible for $45,000 of the verdict, and Hicks was levied $5,000. The county is expected to pay the verdict.
The three-day trial was held in Fulton County State Court before Chief Judge Patsy Porter.
The case is McGee v. Hicks, No. 03VS057136.