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Former county fire chief appears in court Thursday
Former Newton County Fire Chief Kevin O'Brien, far right, appears before Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson as his lawyer, center, John L. Strauss asks for a continuation, saying O'Brien had not received mailed copies of the discovery, or evidence, District Attorney Layla Zon had shared to proceed with the case. Judge Johnson set a new hearing date for Thursday, June 23.

Former Newton County Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien appeared in court Thursday as his lawyer, John L. Straus, filed a request for continuance. Judge Horace J. Johnson granted the request and set the next hearing for Thursday, June 23.

According to Strauss, he had mailed copies of the discovery evidence against O’Brien but it had apparently been lost in the mail, leaving O’Brien unprepared for a trail. On the 23rd, O’Brien will return to court and either enter a plea of guilty or ask for a bench or jury trial. In a bench trial, the judge renders the decision whereas in a jury trial the jury finds the defendant guilty or not guilty.

O’Brien had been booked in January after a Grand Jury handed down an indictment for four counts of “theft by taking by a government employee.”

According to then-Interim County Manager Harry Owens, Fire Services Chief Kevin O’Brien was placed on administrative, unpaid leave after an emergency executive session by the Newton County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 14.

O’Brien was indicted following an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Alcovy Circuit District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney Layla Zon said O’Brien was indicted after a case involving illegal use of a county purchasing card was brought in front of the Grand Jury. Each count was for a theft of over $1,500, which makes it a felony for anyone. However, Zon said because O’Brien was a government employee, any amount stolen, even a dollar, is considered a felony. Conservatively, she said, the district attorney’s office estimates O’Brien took between $17,000 to $20,000 between 2011 and 2015.

O’Brien was hired as interim chief in May of 2011, after serving as deputy chief of operations and training, and was officially hired in December of 2012.

The Newton County Fire Service Department protects an area of 278 square miles and has a force of 80 full-time firefighters.