SMITHFIELD — On Wednesday, Cindy Jaeger stepped into the jail where she formerly sent criminals, trying to avoid a stare from the boss she worked to elect in 2006.
It was a strange homecoming that Jaeger had hoped to avoid. Over the past year, she has met with agents from the State Bureau of Investigation to try to explain how her signature landed on 70 dismissal forms used to make drunken-driving cases all but disappear.
Jaeger wore jeans and a long-sleeve Carolina T-shirt as she walked past District Attorney Susan Doyle into the magistrate's office, escorted by her mother and her attorney. After posting bond, Jaeger left without saying a word. Her attorney, David Freedman of Winston- Salem, stopped to assure reporters that Jaeger had no criminal intentions for her part in the matter.
"I ask that people have an open mind about what's going on," Freedman said.
Jaeger's spent her entire legal career working to punish wrongdoers and keep the public safe. After finishing law school in her native Michigan, Jaeger snagged a job in Johnston County prosecuting domestic crimes in 2003.
Early in 2005, Jaeger's former boss, Tom Lock, decided to run for Superior Court Judge. Two of his assistant prosecutors, Susan Doyle and Dale Stubbs, both ran for the vacant district attorney post. The race split the office. Every other employee, Jaeger included, aligned with one candidate or the other.
Jaeger spent many of her off-duty hours campaigning for Doyle. In November 2006, Doyle pulled ahead. Few were as happy as Jaeger.
She stayed on under Doyle, though her responsibilities didn't change as Doyle hired other out-of-county prosecutors to join her staff.
In September 2007, Jaeger secured a job as an assistant district attorney in Forsyth County. By then, relations between Doyle and Jaeger were strained.
Practically all of the dismissal forms at the center of the SBI investigation bear Jaeger's signature and a date from September 2007, the final month she worked in Johnston County.
In spring 2008, Doyle and her staff noticed something amiss with several DWI cases scheduled for trial. A new tracking system showed that the cases had been dismissed. Doyle called the SBI and asked special prosecutors at the state Attorney General's Office to investigate.
That investigation put Jaeger, four private attorneys and a deputy clerk in the hot seat this week, each charged with obstructing justice. On Tuesday, attorneys Chad Lee, Lee Hatch, Vann Sauls and Jack McLamb, along with deputy clerk Portia Snead, turned themselves in to SBI agents.
For now, there's nothing to keep these attorneys from practicing law. Prosecutors for the attorney general have notified the N.C. State Bar of their investigation. Typically, the State Bar waits for criminal charges to be resolved before it pursues disciplinary action against an attorney. Requests to temporarily suspend a lawyer's license are made only when the State Bar suspects the alleged misconduct is still being committed.