Gobble wrong on court clerk discipline, judge says

Gobble wrong on court clerk discipline, judge says

November 17th, 2012 by Kate Harrison Belz and Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News

Tim Gobble

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A special judge has ruled that East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble "overstepped his bounds" when he disciplined several court clerks for their handling of a case in which his daughter was the victim.

Judge Kevin Wilson filed his finding Friday.

"Some of [Gobble's] remarks reflect a mixing of his concern as a parent with his duties of city manager," Wilson writes. "While this is understandable on one hand, it certainly does not reflect well on the appearance of separation between the City Manager's duties as an independent and neutral officer."

Wilson, who typically acts as city judge for Collegedale, initially heard complaints about Gobble's behavior in September. In a burglary case -- which did not involve Gobble's daughter -- attorneys Cris Helton and Chris Dixon complained that his disciplinary action against the clerk's office raised questions about administrative interference in the courts.

Gobble suspended Court Clerk JoAnn Thomas and formally reprimanded two other court employees for "insubordination" after he said they failed to tell his daughter about scheduled changes in a Sept. 3 court case. The case involved a robbery of his daughter.

The clerk notified his daughter of the scheduling change by leaving a message on an answering machine.

Gobble said that was not a proper notification, and he disagreed Friday with Wilson's characterization of his behavior.

"I think he ruled according to the law, but I disagree on the assumption that I overstepped my bounds," Gobble said. "I clearly did not. I was well within my managerial authority to question that action of leaving the notification of a witness on an answering machine."

Wilson acknowledged in his decision that the city manager may need to oversee court clerks -- especially when the city judge works parttime, as he does in East Ridge -- but said the city manager still needs to leave some parts of the clerk's job alone in order to maintain neutrality.

Gobble insisted he did not discipline the clerks because it was his daughter's case.

"It had nothing to do with my daughter's case," he said. "It never has. It has to do with the proper notification of witnesses. That fell squarely within my administrative responsibility as city manager."

Wilson did not dismiss the burglary charges against Helton and Dixon's client, but Dixon said he is happy with the decision.

"I think it's fair and equitable," he said. "I hope it establishes that there is a difference between the judge's authority over the clerks and the city manager's. The law is clear that the judges are the ones in charge of the clerk and not the city manager."