Published on February 3, 2016 in the Courthouse News Service, "Woman Claims Probate Court Stole Her Cash":
(CN) - A Georgia woman claims that Chatham County, a probate judge, a local bank, and a probate clerk who is currently in federal prison for stealing close to $1 million, are responsible for the more than $200,000 missing from her court registry account.
In a complaint filed on Jan. 27, Cherlyn Haynes says she deposited $214,231.27 into the Chatham County Probate Court registry, while a dispute involving an estate sale was resolved in court.
"On January 13, 2015, Plaintiff was informed that the money entrusted to the Probate Court was missing," the complaint says..
Haynes says Kim Birge the former probate court clerk and convicted embezzler, deposited her funds into an account at First Chatham Bank, also a defendant in the lawsuit.
"Kim Birge deposited Cherlyn Haynes' money in First Chatham Bank and used it as her personal bank account," said Ryan Locke of Atlanta, who is representing Haynes.
"The bank knew or should have known that this is not permitted ... We believe that the bank continues to have some of our client's money sitting in the account still," Locke said.
First Chatham Bank referred Courthouse News to its attorney, Todd Baiad of Bouhan Falligant in Savannah, Ga., but he did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
Haynes claims Chatham County was aware that Birge was stealing money, but did nothing to stop her.
Locke said Probate judge Harris Lewis is also liable for the misappropriation of his client's funds. because it was Lewis's duty to "oversee this court and to oversee the people he appointed and that didn't happen."
Noble Boykin, of Jones Boykin & Associates in Savannah, is representing Judge Lewis and said he considers the claim against his client "entirely and utterly frivolous."
"They admitted on the face of the complaint that Judge Lewis didn't know anything about the misconduct about Miss Berge until a couple of days before he terminated her when he discovered the news," Boykin told Courthouse News. "There's no allegation and no evidence of any improprieties by the judge."
Boykin noted that Kim Birge was the administrator and chief clerk of the court, and was well paid to do that job while Judge Lewis did his.
"It was not his job and never has been to sit on Birge's shoulder and look over her shoulder in her capacity as a county employee," Boykin said. "In terms of these allegations ... they're not true. Judges in this state have immunity for claims against them for negligence."
Locke was unmoved by such assertions.
"The defendants could have stopped Kim Burge from stealing my client's money, but they didn't. They had a chance to," he said.
Jonathan Hart of Hart & Associates in Savannah represents Chatham County.