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BOWLING GREEN – Caroline County Circuit Court Clerk Ray Campbell hired a deputy court clerk in August even though he knew she had been charged with breaking the law while working for the Fredericksburg Circuit Court.
According to Fredericksburg Circuit Court records, Renee Margaret Snyder, 35, was indicted on Feb. 27, 2012 and charged with a class 1 misdemeanor. The charge was false entry/destruction of public records under Virginia Code, section 18.2-472. Court records indicate the offense occurred June 2, 2011 and she was arrested March 13, 2012.
News sources say Snyder allegedly forged a signature on a court order that released Brett J. Knutson’s criminal and substance abuse history and his driving record. His records wound up being faxed to state agencies.
With her lawyer, Mark S. Gardner, representing her, Snyder arranged a plea agreement and pleaded guilty as charged on April 10, 2012. Judge William H. Ledbetter Jr. handed down a deferred disposition, postponing his decision for two years. The judge agreed to dismiss the charge if Snyder fulfills terms and conditions of probation, which are: pay court cost, “be of general good behavior during the period of time that the sentence is suspended,” complete 100 hours of community service and pay restitution.
Speaking in general terms, Campbell said, “A deferred disposition occurs when a defendant enters a plea and the court finds facts sufficient for a conviction. But the court takes the case under advisement or adjudication of guilt. This means the court has not found the person guilty, and the court continues the case for a certain time. In general, the defendant has to comply with conditions of probation and perhaps community service.”
Court records indicate Snyder is scheduled to go back before the judge in Fredericksburg at 9 a.m. on April 28, 2014. “It is highly likely the court’s decision would be to dismiss the case,” said Campbell, who has been in his elected position continually since 1992.
Virginia law says she must never be allowed to work as a court clerk if her case is not dismissed in 2014. Virginia Code, section 18.2-472, reads, “If a clerk of any court or other public officer fraudulently makes a false entry, or erases, alters, secretes or destroys any record, including a microphotographic copy, in his keeping and belonging to his office, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and shall forfeit his office and be forever incapable of holding any office of honor, profit or trust under the Constitution of Virginia.”
“We’d have to see what happens,” Campbell said. “I might have to talk to a lawyer and get a ruling on this. The final shoe will not drop on this until 2014.”
While others applied for the deputy clerk position, it was Snyder who had the solid experience, Campbell said. He had met Snyder only once before she was hired but didn’t know her well, he said.
“I knew she had been prosecuted,” he explained. “She admitted her mistake during the interview and she told me right up front. I didn’t have to go looking for it. We are not related by blood or marriage.”
Snyder’s Fredericksburg court boss, Sharron Mitchell, did not fire her after her indictment. However, Mitchell was replaced by Jeff Small earlier this year as the clerk of court for the Fredericksburg Circuit Court and he chose not to hire Snyder. New clerks have the option to retain the current deputy clerks or replace them when selecting a staff of clerks, he said.
“She might have done something wrong,” Small said. “But she’s paid her penance and the court costs and probably deserves a second chance.”
“The purpose of court is not only to punish someone but to rehabilitate someone,” Campbell said. “Everybody has made a mistake. I was willing to give her a second chance.”
A college degree isn’t necessary to become a deputy clerk of court, but “you can’t just take a person off the street and teach them how to do this job in 60 days,” Small said. “It takes six months to a year. It’s a hard job and it has a lot of specific things you have to know, using computers and learning how to look up stuff.”
Clerks across the nation go to an Internet message board where they can ask questions and share advice with other clerks because unique cases arise that can baffle even a seasoned clerk, Small said.
“These positions are highly technical,” Campbell said. “Our computers are operated under the auspices of the Virginia Supreme Court.”