Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Asst. Judge Pleads Guilty to Theft; Agrees to Probation, but Can't Take Office; Gillette to Delay Retirement

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Asst. Judge Pleads Guilty to Theft; Agrees to Probation, but Can't Take Office; Gillette to Delay Retirement

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

WOODBINE | Camden County Probate Judge-elect Shirley P. Wise pleaded guilty Wednesday to theft from the office, resigned her assistant judgeship and advised the governor she will not take office Jan. 1.

Wise, 56, pleaded guilty to felony charges of theft by taking, theft by deception and violating her oath of office, all felonies.

Superior Court Judge David L. Cavender accepted a plea agreement offered by special prosecutor Brian M. Rickman, district attorney of the Mountain Judicial Circuit, under which Wise will serve seven years on probation on the theft counts and five years' probation on the violation of oath of office count, all to be served concurrently.

Wise also must pay a $1,000 fine and make $5,500 restitution to the county.

She is also forbidden from holding any public office during her probation.

Rickman told Cavender that under Georgia law, Probate Judge Martin Gillette was the victim on the theft-by-deception charge because she took fees for filing vital records between December 2008 and May 31, 2010, that should have gone to Gillette. But Gillette did not want Wise prosecuted and would not help in the prosecution, Rickman said.

Wise could nonetheless be charged for violating state law, he told Cavender.

The theft-by-deception charge arose from the hiring of Probate Court employee Patsy Kennedy to reorganize the office's vital records vault to increase the capacity.

Between May 2009 and August 2010, Kennedy did the work and billed the county $11,250 as a contractor, Aberdeen Recording Service and Supply, although she already was an employee.

Wise got $5,500 of the money paid to Kennedy.

The violation of the oath of office stemmed from the criminal activity while she was Gillette's assistant judge.

The guilty plea also was part of a consent agreement that will end the Judicial Qualifications Commission's formal charges against Wise of violating judicial cannons.

The commission, which has the power to remove judges, had leveled 11 formal charges against Wise in a Dec. 7 amended complaint.

The charges assert that Wise induced a county employee to submit false invoices to the county and that she then received illegal kickbacks totalling $5,500 from the paid invoices.

Wise also instructed a court employee to cut Gillette's signature from a document and affix it to another he had not signed and, in one case, to forgo Gillette's signature altogether, the commission said.

When she ran successfully for the office in July, she used county property and employees in her campaign, the commission said.

Instead of performing weddings herself, she referred couples to for-profit wedding facilities, some of which she allowed to operate as satellite courthouses, the commission charged. …

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