SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Four lawyers and a former court clerk accused of fixing drunken driving cases pleaded guilty today, and two of the lawyers were sentenced to prison.
Today's pleas follow a two-year investigation into a scheme that allowed dozens of people accused of drunken driving to avoid punishment in Johnston County.
Those who pleaded guilty today: Chad Lee, a criminal defense attorney once thought to be a rising star among his peers; Lee Hatch, a private attorney who handled everything from malpractice cases to traffic offenses; two other private attorneys, Jack McLamb and Vann Sauls; and Portia Snead, a former deputy clerk of court.
Charges against Cindy Jaeger, a former Johnston County prosecutor said to be at the heart of the scam, are still pending.
Chad Lee will serve four years in prison. Lee Hatch was sentenced to a little more than three years. Sauls, McLamb and Snead were put on probation.
As part of the plea, Lee and Hatch surrendered their licenses to practice law. The licenses of Sauls and McLamb will be severely restricted during the term of their probation.
A team of special prosecutors from the state Attorney General's office began investigating the matter in the spring of 2008, after a Johnston County prosecutor noticed that some drunken driving cases were being dismissed outside the courtroom.
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