AFTER A HEARING THAT INCLUDED A NEAR BRAWL BETWEEN THE OPPOSING ATTORNEYS, JUDGE LOCKETTE ORDERS FIRE CHIEF JAMES CARSWELL TO CERTIFY JOEY PAIT AS A FIREFIGHTER
TAXPAYERS LIKELY TO SHELL OUT AT LEAST $420,000 IN BACK PAY FOR PAIT
By Kevin Hogencamp
Albany Fire Chief James Carswell can’t be more blunt about it: He doesn’t want Joey Pait to ever work for him again because, among other reasons, Pait is an admitted sex offender, Carswell says.
Pait, a longtime firefighter who was reinstated earlier this year after a seven-year legal battle that included beating a molestation charge, pleading guilty to theft and a lengthy effort to be rehired and receive back pay, has been attending classes at Albany Technical College to regain his firefighter certification.
Because he passed a state-administered certification exam, Pait is now eligible to return to regular duty – but before doing so, Carswell must comply with state law and Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette’s order declaring that Pait is “of good moral character.”
In a Sept. 1 memorandum to Richard Escoffery, an Atlanta attorney representing the city in the matter, Carswell said “I cannot declare such.” Among 23 points made in Carswell’s memo, he said that Pait tried to plead guilty twice during his Dougherty County sexual molestation trial in 2003. Pait was acquitted of the charges.
Carswell also said in the memo that Lockette should not rule in the matter because his wife, Helen, made legal arguments similar to Pait when she worked for the city. But, Carswell said, City Attorney Nathan Davis insisted that the city not make the conflict-of-interest argument because it might upset Judge Lockette.
Pait, who was initially suspended with pay and ultimately was fired, pleaded guilty as a first-offender to two misdemeanor theft charges. But Lockette ordered the city to give Pait his job back, and Thursday, during a hearing in which Pait’s lawyer and the city’s lawyer nearly had a fistfight, Lockette ordered Carswell to sign a document declaring that Pait is of good moral character.
In requiring the city to put Pait back to work, Lockette cited the city’s own argument in defending a lawsuit by fired Civic Center Director Mattie Goddard, saying that unlike other employees, department heads are “at will” employees under the city personnel policy and can be fired for any reason. The city has appealed Lockette’s decision.
Pait, a lieutenant when he was fired in December 2003, is represented in the civil action by attorney Maurice King, who represented Goddard in a losing battle ultimately decided by the Georgia Supreme Court. Lockette also ruled that Pait should not have been terminated because the city personnel policy only requires an employee to be fired for felony convictions, and Lockette noted that under Georgia law, Pait’s first-offender status does not constitute a “conviction.”
During Thursday’s hearing, deputies were called to maintain order after King and Read Gignilliat stood and challenged each other to a fight after King told Gignilliat to stop pointing at him in a threatening manner. King apologized to Lockette during the hearing for his actions.
Gignilliat works for Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp and Wilson in Atlanta.
Following is Carswell’s Sept. 1 memo to Escoffery:
The date is fast approaching that I am going to have to send or not send in a certification packet on Joey Pait. The State of Georgia firefighter certification packet has two sections referencing OCGA 16-10-20 and OCGA 25-4-8(a)(3) I have to sign off on. By penalty of law if I falsify those documents, I can be held accountable.
OCGA 25-4-8(a)(3) requires that I declare that Pait is of good moral character based on what I have been told; of him, I cannot declare such.
- 1. He was suspended for leaving the fire station without prior approval.
- 2. He was suspended for destroying city property by writing another employee’s name by spraying Roundup on the front lawn killing the grass.
- 3. He bragged about hiding in the closet while videotaping his roommate having sex with an unsuspecting girl and then showing video to others.
- 4. He took his wife and kids to Disney World, leaving them at the hotel; he was arrested in Orlando, Fl, while trying to pick up undercover police officer for sex.
- 5. He was charged in Dougherty County for child molestation alleging molesting (two girls).
- 6. He took a polygraph under request of his first attorney when he failed the polygraph he changed lawyers.
- 7. He was charged with felony theft in Lee County when investigators found stolen property in his rented storage building.
- 8. He sold some of the stolen property to another firefighter, who stated he didn’t know it was stolen.
- 9. During molestation trial he tried to plead case twice before jury rendered decision, in both cases, Judge denied because not enough jail time.
10. Jury found him not guilty, the charge in Orlando and the filming while hiding in closet was not allowed because it did not involve kids, and the polygraph was not admissible.
11. The ADA in Lee County allowed him to plead his theft charges down to misdemeanor under First Offender.
12. (Former Albany Fire) Chief (James) Arrowood had Pait terminated for his admission of theft in 2003.
13. After completion of his probation Pait sued the City of Albany for his job and back wages.
14. The Judge assigned the case (Lockette) had a conflict of interest with his wife (Helen) also suing the City of Albany using similar or exact fact references as Pait case.
15. When Chief Arrowood and I asked why the Judge was not asked to recuse himself from this case, I was told the city attorney didn’t want to upset the Judge.
16. The Judge ruled against the City, requiring reinstatement but not ruling on back pay.
17. The city appealed, but because the Judge has not given a final ruling (on back pay) the Court will not hear appeal.
18. Chief Arrowood and I have been told numerous times by you that the Judge’s decision goes against previous Appellate Court rulings and is improper.
19. After appeal was denied, because a final ruling had not been issued, I was told to place Pait on payroll.
20. Because of length of time since Pait had been certified, he was placed in Albany Technical College for training, the only place he could get training without the department signing off on it.
21. This week he will take his State certification test at which time for him to become certified I will have to sign off on his packet declaring he is of good moral character.
22. If I do not sign the declaration, the State will not certify Pait.
23. If the State does not certify Pait, he cannot be placed on duty.
Rich, the question I have is does the Judge’s orders require me to place him on duty pending final ruling, in violation of State standards? Can the Judge compel me to sign a declaration of good moral character when I do not believe it to be true? What are the City’s options?