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Hearings would precede judge’s decision on Newton coroner's job, council’s decision on pay
Dorothea Bailey-Butts
Dorothea Bailey-Butts

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County’s coroner is facing both losing her salary and her elected position after the county manager recently began the process of seeking her removal from office.

The Georgia Coroners Training Council is scheduled to meet later this month and could consider removing Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts’ certification that state law requires she have before she can be paid, said Council Chairman Richard Stanley of Dublin.

Stanley, who is coroner of Laurens County, said the Council could remove the certification a coroner is required to hold to receive her $35,000 annual salary from the county.

The Georgia Administrative Code that governs the Coroners Training Council states, “No coroner shall charge or collect any fee, charge, or cost of any kind for his services unless such coroner is properly certified.” 

The five-member Training Council can remove a coroner’s certification if the holder of the office, “Is unable to perform the duties of the office with ‘reasonable skill and safety to citizens’ because of illness, use of substances, or the result of a physical or mental condition.”

Other instances in which the Council can remove certification are for conviction of a crime involving “moral turpitude,” or crimes classified as felonies or involving marijuana or a controlled substance.

However, the law is not clear how long she must be in office to satisfy the basic training requirements for certification. Bailey-Butts took office Jan. 1 and only recently attended her first training course after she said an initial training session was postponed because of COVID-19.

If the Council votes to remove her certification, the coroner can request a hearing to contest the action, the law states.

Meanwhile, the process of removing a coroner from office begins with someone informing the governor about the need for an investigation into the coroner’s actions, according to state law.

The governor then determines if the investigation is needed because of pending criminal charges, alleged misconduct in office, or alleged incapacity of the coroner to perform the functions of the job, the law states.

If the governor agrees, he then forms a committee made up of members or either the Georgia Coroners Association or the Training Council— the law does not specify which group — to launch an investigation and report its findings within 30 days.

Depending on the committee’s recommendation, the governor may suspend the coroner for up to 60 days and recommend the District Attorney file a removal petition.

A Superior Court judge then would make the ultimate decision to remove the coroner from office for reasons “including incapacity or misbehavior in office” following a hearing before a jury.

The law states the process for removing a coroner mirrors the process for removing a Superior Court clerk.

A spokesperson for the Georgia Attorney General’s office declined comment about the parts of state law surrounding a removal from office.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr filed a petition Jan. 29 with the Coroners Training Council to seek an emergency injunction to prevent her from continuing in the elected position "effective immediately."

The allegations against her include refusing to transport a body from a fatal wreck on Georgia Hwy. 212 last month despite its requirement in state law.

She also possibly destroyed evidence and mishandled the body of a suicide victim; and left a deceased hotel patron in plain view of other guests and employees, according to the petition.

Kerr’s petition also includes other allegations against Bailey-Butts for actions she took between taking office Jan. 1 and Jan. 29 that he said show that “she is wholly unable to competently serve as the county's coroner."

The additional allegations range from possibly being mentally unstable; to telling county commissioners she had damaging information to force them to approve more money for her office.

County spokesman Bryan Fazio said Kerr was pursuing the action despite the potentially lengthy process for her removal.

“When he filed it, it was with much thought and research and the action was not taken lightly,” Fazio said.

Bailey-Butts did not return an emailed request for comment.

She recently told an Atlanta TV station she denied many of the allegations in the petition and defended other actions by saying she was not properly trained.