DeKalb rescinds termination of probation contract

DeKalb County decided not to terminate a nearly $1 million contract with its probation company after complaints it was illegal.

The county rescinded its termination of Judicial Correction Services, according to a letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The county’s letter was dated three days after the AJC reported that the termination violated state law and appeared to be a conflict of interest.

“Everything remains as if it never happened,” JCS’ president Jarrett Gorlin told the AJC on Friday. “We probably wouldn’t be here if you didn’t raise the issue. Hopefully people will do the right thing going forward.”

After learning about the termination, Recorders Court Chief Judge Nelly Withers sent a letter to the CEO, questioning the termination and citing a state law that says only a judge can terminate a probation services contract.

On Friday, a county spokesman said that lawyers reviewed the judge’s letter and realized she was correct.

“After reviewing the specific legal concerns raised by Judge Withers, the law department has reconsidered the county’s position and agrees that Withers has the final authority to terminate that type of contract before expiration,” said Burke Brennan, spokesman for the CEO. “The CEO demands all staff to follow proper procedure and protocols, and this is no exception.”

Brennan said county attorneys had initially signed off on the contract termination.

Brennan insisted that a recommendation from the CEO’s campaign manager did not have any impact on the contract.

Attorney Kevin Ross, who managed Ellis’ campaign and transition team, told the AJC earlier this month that he told the CEO to terminate the contract with JCS. Ross, who calls himself a “friend and advisor to the CEO,” works for a competitor probation company, Sentinel Offender Services.

Ellis previously told the AJC that Ross brought him some questions about JCS, but was not influential in the termination.

Out of more than 1,000 county contracts, the CEO has attempted to terminate three this year, including JCS and an ambulance contract. The new ambulance contract was also given to a company that Ross works for.

JCS is responsible for collecting fees and monitoring about 2,400 misdemeanor probationers. The company, which also manages probation in Fulton, has another 18 months left on its DeKalb contract, Gorlin said.

Withers was appointed and JCS was chosen to clean up the court after a grand jury indicted 11 court employees in a ticket-fixing scheme. The grand jury criticized the previous chief judge for not collecting millions of dollars in fines and dismissing 11,000 warrants without review. Many of those warrants were dismissed because they contained mistakes from Sentinel, the grand jury said.

JCS has already increased the county’s fine collection by $500,000 a year and closed more than 15,000 cases, Withers said.

JCS is also developing GED, literacy and job skills classes for the Recorders Court, along with an upgraded defensive driving course, Withers said. The company is also putting together a job registry to help defendants find employment to pay their fines.

“Our court is the first stop for many young people after juvenile court,” Withers said. “We’re trying to give them the opportunity to do something positive and keep them from going on to other courts.”

The state County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council is currently investigating Sentinel, along with Peachtree Probation, which both worked for DeKalb, according to Chris Patterson, of the state Administrative Office of the Courts.