Records can't account for her presence at work; one commissioner announces candidacy for her seat; another wants her to answer questions at next Monday's meeting
Entry data for the downtown City County Building where Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey works cannot account for her presence in the building for more than half of last year.
McCroskey, like all employees who work there, uses a swipe card that leaves behind an electronic record when entering the building. And those records also suggest that for almost three-fourths of the year so far, McCroskey has not worked a full business week, missing nearly half of all Fridays so far.
In a brief interview with WBIR on Wednesday, she said some of her absences were due to two back surgeries in February and May of 2012, but she's uncertain how long they kept her out of the office.
She added that she was out for six weeks this year because of an additional surgery.
McCroskey maintains the department that oversees the official records for the Fourth Circuit Court, General Sessions, and Criminal Court.
She operates what the county calls a "fee office," meaning it's supposed to be self-sustaining. Any money it receives covers $494,000 in monthly payroll, including benefits, and the rest is turned over to the county's general fund to help maintain overall day-to-day operations.
However, because she's an elected official, McCroskey does not accrue annual leave or sick leave and does not have to fill out a timecard. She also has no set schedule and is not required to show up for work to collect her more than $125,000 a year paycheck.
Only voters can hold McCroskey accountable, and it appears they will have choices in the next election.
Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond on Wednesday announced his intentions to challenge her in next May's Republican primary.
"I love a challenge and this will be a challenge," said Hammond. "Problem solving is something that I enjoy and I think that I can bring that to the table."
Other elected officials also want to hear from McCroskey.
Knox County Commissioner Chairman Brad Anders on Wednesday formally asked the embattled criminal court clerk to attend Monday's board meeting to discuss the recent media reports about her office.
The move comes after a WBIR Channel 10 investigation revealed dozens of errors that originated from the criminal court clerk's office and led to wrongful arrests, wrongfully revoked driver's licenses, and unwarranted convictions.
"I wanted to give her an opportunity to talk to us," said Anders, who asked officials to hand deliver the letter to her Wednesday afternoon. "I could tell from some of the comments from the commissioners (last Monday) that they wanted to hear from her and have her give her side of the story. I just wanted to give her an opportunity to be part of the conversation."
McCroskey briefly attended last Monday's County Commission work session, but moments before Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones spoke to the board about the problems. Prior to the meeting, McCroskey had blamed some of the wrongful arrests on the sheriff's department. During the meeting, Jones fired back.
In his letter to McCroskey, the chairman said he wanted to give her the chance to "provide your perspective, to clear up any misunderstandings, answer questions, and/or discuss any changes you may have implemented to resolve the current difficulties in your office."
MCroskey said she will attend next Monday's commission meeting, and she does intend to run for office next year.
Hammond, a former board chairman and longtime local radio personality, said he will further discuss his qualifications and vision during a Nov. 20 campaign kickoff event at Calhoun's.
A LOOK AT THE CONTINUING INVESTIGATION BY WBIR:
Sept. 16: Knox County Criminal Court contract violated law: Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey violated state law and county code three years ago when she hired Solutia Revenue Recovery, a private collection agency, to go after some $18 million in outstanding fines, fees and restitution owed to the county.
Officials learned about the contract earlier this year, and that McCroskey didn't competitively bid out the service. The county then started the advertising process. On Monday, the county commission is expected to officially sign a new contract with Municipal Services Bureau to take over collection duties.
Oct. 18: Errors leading to wrongful arrests, Knox officials say: A WBIR Channel10 investigation discovered numerous instances of errors that originated from the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office and led to residents wrongly taken into custody or kept in jail for days, sometimes weeks, past their scheduled release dates.
The records, obtained through the state's open records act, and interviews with top ranking county leaders suggest that the mistakes date back to at least July 2012 and occurred as recently as early September.
Officials say criminal court clerk's office workers often fail to update the county's Justice Information Management System, or JIMS, which attorneys, the sheriff's office, and the district attorney's office rely on for the latest information and to make decisions on whether a defendant is up-to-date on payments, court appearances, or community service.
Officials also say that the clerks sometimes fail to bring warrants to the judges to dismiss once the defendant completes his or her probationary requirements.
That means judges often issue invalid warrants and authorities act on them. It also means that some defendants have spent more time in jail than they should.
Oct. 18: Two speak out, say they were wrongly arrested: More details into just what's going on in the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office regarding wrongful arrests.
Oct. 21: Knox officials to meet about errors that led to arrests: A top Knox County judge said Monday that he expects to meet with local leaders in the coming weeks to talk about errors originating from the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office that have led to a number of wrongful arrests.
"Anytime a person's liberty is taken away for any amount of time, it's a very serious concern to us and it should be to everyone," Knox County General Sessions Court Judge Andrew Jackson VI told WBIR Channel10 in an exclusive interview.
Jackson, the current presiding sessions court judge, said he's not sure how many wrongful arrests have occurred, but that "one is too many."
"We don't like to put people in jail," he said. "But we really don't like to put people in jail who don't belong."
Oct. 22: Botched paperwork hurt driving records, cases dismissed: Officials say the criminal court clerk's office workers are entering wrong data into the records management system, losing crucial paperwork, and providing defendants with bad information, according to a series of emails, memos and documents obtained by WBIR Channel 10 under the state's open records law.
As a result, authorities have wrongly arrested defendants and kept others locked up longer than their scheduled release date, according to the Channel 10 investigation.
Many of the mistakes, though, also focus on traffic citations, and earlier this month, officials in the Knox County District Attorney General's Office asked the sessions court judges to consider doing away with the county's Driver Improvement Program, or DIP, which lets some traffic offenders take to avoid a ticket.
Other problems include:
- Dismissed tickets still appear on a driver's record.
- Clerks entered county ordinance traffic citations into the system as state charges, which carry stiffer penalties. The cases were set aside.
- Cases dismissed after clerks failed to bring the paperwork to the courtroom until noon, leaving the defendants waiting for hours for a judge to hear a traffic citation
- Clerks entered wrong convictions into the system. In one case, the clerk entered "Driving Under the Influence" instead of the much lesser offense of "Public Intoxication." Another time, officials didn't update the system, so one offender appeared to be on probation when he wasn't.
- Clerks entered wrong charges into the system. Cases dismissed.
- Clerks entered wrong fines into the system. In one case, the fine was supposed to be $250, but entered as $25.
Oct. 22: Some Criminal Court Clerk's answers contradict records: Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey said she's never met with other local leaders to discuss the errors originating in her office that many officials are now calling a systemic problem that has led to wrongful arrests, wrongfully revoked driver's licenses, and unwarranted convictions. Records and interviews with Knox County officials suggest otherwise.