By Tony Saavedra / Staff Writer
Updated: June 19, 2015 – 8:50 p.m.
A single missing document in a DUI case, noticed three months ago by a courtroom clerk, set off a probe by the FBI and local prosecutors that has grown to more than 1,000 cases of suspected record fixing.
Court counsel Jeff Wertheimer said Thursday the falsified records dated back to about 2010 and span the entire Orange County Superior Court system.
The false record keeping appeared to be the work of a single, backroom male clerk who no longer is employed by the county, Wertheimer said. He declined to name the clerk, citing the ongoing investigation.
“A lot of us are very concerned. We take our jobs seriously. For somebody to betray the public trust is very disturbing,” Wertheimer said. “However, as long it takes to set the record straight, we’re going to do that.”
The incomplete DUI file that sparked the probe included the rogue clerk’s employee ID, Wertheimer said. The department soon ran all the DUIs and other misdemeanor traffic violations linked to that employee ID and found hundreds of other entries that apparently were altered.
Cases were recorded as dismissed when they were not; charges erroneously were listed as dropped and penalties appeared to have been reduced. Lawyers who had nothing to do with the cases were listed as attorneys of record, according to interviews and court proceedings.
As a result of the altered records, punishment for hundreds of cited drivers may have been reduced or wiped out entirely.
Most of the flawed cases contained phony resolutions, meaning the defendant didn’t have to return to court. That resulted in those cases not being scrutinized by other court clerks, Wertheimer said.
The DUI case that was flagged in March was an exception; it didn’t indicate a full resolution. As a result, it was sent to court where a clerk noticed the missing form.
“The individual out there to some degree knew what he was doing, not as well as he thought, but (he) made it difficult to find,” Wertheimer said.
Since the discovery of the false records, hundreds of defendants have been called back before Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris in Westminster to determine whether their cases should be sent back to square one.
Many who appeared last week saw their plea deals reversed. One woman who falsely claimed to have served time in a private jail was taken into custody. More defendants are expected to appear over the next two Fridays.
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