Newton County’s embattled coroner asks county to pay her legal fees

COVINGTON — Newton County’s controversial coroner has informed Commission Chairman Marcello Banes that she expects the county to pay for her legal defense against the county’s efforts to have her removed from office.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr filed a petition Jan. 29 with the state Coroner’s Training Council to remove Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts from office, alleging several incidents of misconduct.

Bailey-Butts was elected in November and took office on Jan. 1.

In a Feb. 10 letter to Chairman 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 subsequent 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.

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, Bailey-Butts has refused to transport bodies, which is a fundamental duty of the Coroner’s Office, and has allegedly mismanaged the operation of her office by employing three deputy coroners who have not gone through the county’s hiring process.

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.

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