published Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Attorneys try to have East Ridge burglary case dismissed after dispute between city manager, court clerk

Two attorneys want to have a burglary case dismissed in East Ridge City Court, saying recent disputes between City Manager Tim Gobble and the court clerk’s office may have interfered with the court’s neutrality.

Gobble was subpoenaed to the court Tuesday by defense attorneys Chris Dixon and Cris Helton, who said that Gobble’s disciplinary action against the clerk’s office this month raised questions about administrative interference in the courts.

“My client has the right to have his case reviewed by a neutral and detached magistrate clerk,” said Dixon. “The actions of Mr. Gobble show a strong possibility that these are not neutral and detached — there may be some aspect of fear involved because his hands are in the police and the clerk’s office.”

East Ridge City Attorney John Anderson is trying to keep Gobble from having to testify in the case, and a special judge has taken the matter under advisement, saying it is an issue that has been hovering over Hamilton County courts for some time.

Earlier this month, Gobble suspended Court Clerk JoAnn Thomas and formally reprimanded two other court employees for “insubordination” after he said they failed to tell him about court scheduling changes in connection with a Sept. 3 robbery case in which his daughter was the victim.

Dixon and Helton are representing Jon Graham, a man charged with aggravated burglary who is not connected with Gobble’s daughter’s case. Still, the attorneys argued, Gobble’s recent actions have made it unclear whether the clerk is separate from administrative and law enforcement influence.

Because East Ridge’s judge is in court only once a week, the court clerk and deputy clerks sign all arrest warrants. Graham’s warrant was signed Sept. 8, in the middle of the drama at city hall.

Prosecutor Darren Gibson said the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office also has some concern on whether the conflict could compromise future cases.

“Obviously, we have a tremendous issue on the validity of our warrants,” said Gibson.

For more details, read Wednesday’s Times Free Press.

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