Before she was fired last month, the supervisor of the traffic bureau in Hall County’s Clerk of Courts office was warned more than once about the backlog of cases in her division.
The office she left behind contained checks from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office that had expired, but no trace of payments from at least 24 traffic cases handled in the clerk’s office, according to documents obtained by The Times through Georgia’s open records law.
Gail Baugh was fired on June 1, shortly after her boss, Clerk of Court Charles Baker, discovered nearly $11,000 was missing from the traffic bureau.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is still trying to determine if Baugh or anyone else is criminally liable for the missing money. The month-old investigation is expected to last several more weeks.
Baugh, who oversaw the collection of county traffic fines for most of the last decade, has not responded to a request for comment from The Times. Investigators have also said little about the case, citing the ongoing investigation.
But a letter The Times obtained through an open records’ request last week shows Baugh was fired in June for a number of violations of office policy, including failing to record cash payments for traffic tickets in the county’s electronic financial system.
Clerk’s office employees are required to record payments made in cash in the county’s financial system within two business days of the payment.
As of the date of the letter, Baker wrote there were at least 24 cash payments that could not be found.
The letter, signed by Baker, stated that a May 26 search of Baugh’s office also uncovered a number of expired checks that had not been properly filed.
Baker said the checks were written to the clerk’s office by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office for bond forfeitures, but many — some dating as far back as fall of 2005 — were found expired and uncashed in Baugh’s desk. When a defendant pays a bond to the sheriff’s office to guarantee an appearance in court, he or she can later request that the bond be applied toward a fine rather than receiving a refund from the sheriff’s office when the case is closed. The sheriff’s office regularly sends these payments in the form of a check to the clerk’s office.
Among other office violations he listed in her termination letter, Baker wrote that Baugh had also not sent traffic cases to court in a timely manner and failed to notify the solicitor’s office when violators paid only parts of their fines.
The letter also referenced a backlog of work in Baugh’s office “that will take a substantial amount of time to sort and process.” Annual performance reviews show Baugh’s supervisors had been aware of the backlog for at least two years.
In addition to the policy violations, Baker also wrote that the search of Baugh’s office uncovered a traffic ticket Baugh received in February 2010 for driving with an expired tag. The ticket had not been filed or paid.
Court records show that Baugh has begun to deal with the ticket since her termination from the county. She has pleaded not guilty for the expired tag violation. Her lawyer, Dan Summer, has asked for a jury trial.
Summer did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Before she was fired last month, Baugh had been a county employee for more than 23 years, spending much of the last decade at the head of the traffic violations bureau for the clerk’s office.
Baker placed her on administrative leave on May 26 after learning that nearly $11,000 from her division could not be accounted for.
A criminal investigation of the money missing from her office will likely take “several” more weeks, as GBI agents analyze financial information from the county clerk’s office and conduct interviews, according to Kim Williams, the special agent in charge for the GBI’s Cleveland division.
Baugh’s personnel file shows that she was warned in two separate annual evaluations about the time it took her to enter ticket payments into the county’s electronic accounting system.
A December 2010 evaluation said Baugh “rarely needs improvement in submitting reports.” The evaluation noted her need to deal with a backlog of reports, however, stating Baugh should delegate more work to employees.
An evaluation from 2009 also mentions the backlog of cases in her office and the length of time Baugh took to enter ticket payments into the electronic filing system.
The evaluation gave Baugh high marks for her work habits, noting the supervisor was “here early and stays late” and “makes sure lights are out and doors are locked.” Previous evaluations also note how Baugh was the last to leave the office, and evaluations prior to 2008 came with high marks.
Otherwise, Baugh received fairly high marks in her annual performance evaluations, and was paid $21.89 per hour for the job.
According to her personnel file, Baugh originally came to work for the county in September 1985 clerk in the tax commissioner’s office. She left in February 1988 for a job outside the county and returned as an employee of the clerk’s office in May 1988.
In 2004, she was promoted to deputy clerk and later was named supervisor of the traffic bureau.