COVINGTON — Newton County’s controversial coroner has hired a Fayetteville attorney to defend her against an effort by the county to remove her from office.
In a Friday email to the Citizen, attorney Wayne Kendall, who said he represents Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts, called the effort to remove Bailey-Butts a smear campaign, criticized local media coverage as “one-sided” and described a petition filed by County Manager Lloyd Kerr to remove Bailey-Butts from office as “hearsay.”
Kerr filed a petition Jan. 29 with the state Coroner’s Training Council to remove Bailey-Butts, alleging several incidents of misconduct.
Bailey-Butts subsequently informed Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes that she expects the county to pay for her legal defense against the county’s efforts to have her removed.
In a Feb. 10 letter to Banes, obtained by the Citizen through an Open Records Act request, Bailey-Butts asks that the county provide the “payment of an attorney of my choice as legal counsel in defending the Office of the Coroner against these baseless claims…”
Bailey-Butts requested a response by Friday, Feb. 12. In a follow-up letter to Banes, Bailey-Butts said that since she had not heard from the county, and due to the “urgent need to retain legal counsel, please be advised that I will engage counsel to defend against the allegations of official misconduct.”
Bailey-Butts added that, since the allegations appear to be made by the county and not by Kerr individually, “I will expect Newton County to cover my legal expenses.”
In a brief email on Feb. 17, Banes replied that he had forwarded Bailey-Butts’ letter to the county attorney.
Bailey-Butts was elected in November and took office on Jan. 1.
In his petition to the Georgia Coroner’s Training Council, Kerr alleges that Bailey-Butts mishandled several cases in January, including an auto fatality, the death of a guest at the Hampton Inn in Covington, and the suicide of a 13-year-old boy. According to Kerr’s petition, Bailey-Butts, who refers to herself as Madam Coroner, “has demonstrated that she is wholly unable to competently serve as the county’s coroner.”
Under a law passed in 2019, the Coroner’s Training Council has the authority to review complaints regarding coroners and make recommendations concerning their retention, suspension or removal and to withdraw or suspend a coroner’s certification.
In addition to the allegations of misconduct, the county alleges Bailey-Butts mismanaged the operation of her office by employing three deputy coroners who did not go through the county’s hiring process before beginning work.
In a Monday email to the Citizen, attorney Kendall said he understands why Bailey-Butts has declined to speak with local media regarding the county’s allegations.
“It seems that she and other members of the African American community that I have spoken to do not feel that when it comes to African American political leaders there exists fair and unbiased local media coverage,” wrote Kendall. “Hence, their apprehension in speaking to local media.”
Kendall said he has filed an Open Records Act request with the county for any county correspondence, beginning Aug. 1, 2020, concerning or related to Bailey-Butts.
If the county’s petition to remove Bailey-Butts is successful, Kerr has said he believes the county would be able to hold a special election to fill the coroner’s position.
Bailey-Butts, a Democrat, defeated long-time coroner Tommy Davis, a Republican, in the November General Election.