An Orange County clerk appears to have illegally fixed as many as 1,000 DUI and misdemeanor traffic cases with fake plea deals and forged records, court officials said Friday.
The man’s actions are now part of an investigation by county prosecutors and the FBI.
Jeffrey Wertheimer, legal counsel for the Orange County Superior Courts, says “there are about 1,000 cases give or take 100" dating to 2010 and spanning the county.
He said that at this point it appears the cases are tied to one clerk who left his job at the courts in recent months. Wertheimer would not say whether the employee was fired. The suspect’s name has not been released by authorities.
In many of the cases tied to the clerk, punishment was never meted out or heavily reduced penalties were given, officials said.
Law enforcement sources familiar with the criminal investigation say they are examining a scheme where predominantly Latino defendants were targeted and steered into a scheme to illegally and fraudulently resolve cases. Many attorneys said they never represented clients that records show they represented, Wertheimer said.
Wertheimer said the courts will seek to correct all the cases, something that began last week and is continuing in a courthouse in Westminster on Friday, where dozens of defendants were summoned with their attorneys to appear before a judge. More than 100 cases are scheduled to be re-examined Friday, similar to a re-examination that took place last week.
The alleged misconduct was uncovered when another employee discovered an incomplete DUI case and it led to a review of all cases entered by the clerk who handled that case, the court attorney said.
An Orange County public corruption task force is investigating the illegal case resolutions.
Virginia Landry, an Orange County DUI attorney, said attorneys in her firm and others were called to the court for clients they never heard of before. Their suspicion is that someone used the names of firm attorneys to make the resolutions look legitimate.
In an examination of cases last week, FBI and Orange County prosecutors questioned defendants. Lolita Kirk, a Santa Ana criminal defense attorney, received a notice to appear before Judge Thomas Borris concerning three defendants. Court records indicated they had been her clients, but she told the judge she had never represented them.
In one case, Kirk said, court records indicated a defendant had served time in jail, but the court called the jail and found the defendant had not served time. Borris had the defendant taken into custody.