A Knox County judge on Thursday gave three men accused of stealing items from the Stokely Athletics Center another chance to clear their records after attorneys discovered a clerical error that wrongly listed each of them as convicted of theft charges.
The move comes almost three months after WBIR 10 News first broke a series of stories detailing a systemic problem inside Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey's office that has led to wrongful arrests, cases set aside due to errors, and residents temporarily losing their right to vote.
"The bright spot in all this is how diligent the District Attorney's Office has been in trying to resolve this," said Knoxville defense attorney Todd Daniel, who represented the men Thursday. "The scary part or the dangerous part of all this is, as a lawyer who is in these courts on a daily basis and there's a lot of us, I don't know how far we need to go back into our files and research every case that we've done to make sure this hasn't happened to other individuals."
During a brief court hearing on Thursday, Daniel told General Sessions Judge Tony Stansberry that one of the defendants learned about the mistake after a college he applied to discovered the "conviction" during a background check.
Attorneys then researched the backgrounds of the other two defendants and found similar mistakes.
The trio initially pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft last June and were given judicial diversion, meaning that if they don't get in trouble for a year they can ask that the offense be expunged, according to Assistant District Attorney General Samyah Jubran. The defendants at the time also were each ordered to pay almost $1,800 in restitution and court costs.
Stansberry on Thursday ordered the cases to be corrected immediately.
"What becomes problematic with this is discovering the problem because until the issues raises its head, you don't know (about it)," Daniel said.
He called the issue a "correctable problem," but one that "could potentially cause a hardship."
Authorities in December 2012 initially charged Andrew Noyes, 21, Ilya Gofman, 21, and Reid Terry, 22, with theft after responding to a burglary call at the Stokely Athletics Center on Volunteer Boulevard. The men were accused of taking thousands of dollars worth of items, including clothing and uniforms for Smokey, the mascot, according to their warrants.
McCroskey, who maintains the department that oversees the official records for the Fourth Circuit Court, General Sessions, and Criminal Court, has come under fire since a WBIR investigation reported that many of the mistakes appear tied to poor training, outdated information and her refusal to cooperate with other county departments.
Court workers often enter the wrong data into the records management system, lose crucial paperwork and provide defendants, prosecutors, and authorities with bad information.
McCroskey, who did not return a call seeking comment Thursday, has denied much of the allegations, often telling county leaders and the media that she wasn't even aware of them.
Officials, though, continue to discover more errors.
For example, an email sent from Jubran to a number of judges in early December documented more than a dozen examples of clerical mistakes that either did affect or could potentially affect a motorist's driving record.
She also cited another example of a wrongful arrests in which authorities took a teenager into custody for eight hours after records reflected that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
A lawyer for the teen has since filed a letter with the county, demanding $50,000 in damages.