Metro Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver on Wednesday afternoon was arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail on contempt of court charges for failing to produce documents deemed critical to the functioning of the juvenile court system, the chief Metro Juvenile Court Judge confirmed.
Judge Betty Adams Green said that six year’s worth of frustration with Lineweaver’s office finally boiled over after Lineweaver was unable to explain why he could not produce a significant number of juvenile court files – files that three Juvenile Court referees needed to hear child support cases.
Last week, after working for a full 12 months with Lineweaver’s office to find the files of dormant child support cases that court officials knew could be dismissed and purged from the court system, Lineweaver appeared in court to again say he could not locate the files, Green said.
Believing they had no other choice, Green said, the referees held Lineweaver in contempt of court – a misdemeanor – and they gave him until today to “either come up with the files or provide an adequate explanation as to why he was unable to produce them,” Green said.
But on Wednesday Lineweaver again failed to satisfy the referees’ court order for either the documents or a plausible explanation as to their whereabouts, so the referees had him arrested.
He was brought to Metro jail where he was booked on three charges of civil contempt of court.
Juvenile Court officials on Wednesday stressed that this was by no means an isolated incident. Green and Juvenile Court Administrator Tim Adgent said that ever since Lineweaver – a former Metro Council member – was elected to the Juvenile Clerk’s post in 2002, his office has been riddled with record and personnel problems.
“It’s actually been going on for the last six years,” Green said, referring to what she said was the Juvenile Court Clerk’s overall inability to pull its weight in the Metro juvenile justice system.
“We have daily problems with the clerk’s office,” Adgent said. “And the consensus is that this is just the tip of the iceberg here with regard to the performance of the clerk’s office.”
But those frustrations came to a head recently after three Juvenile Court referees attempted to put together a “dismissal docket” that would allow the court to purge hundreds of child support and custody cases that had been dormant for more than a year, Adgent said.
The only problem was that many of the case files were simply unaccounted for, so there was no way to accurately gauge the status of many cases.
“We’ve been trying for over a year to get the dockets in place and the files in place to hold this docket so we can get through purging the system of these cases,” Adgent said. “But records were consistently unavailable.”
“He could not produce the records,” Adgent said of Lineweaver. “He said he couldn’t find them.”
Green said Lineweaver’s explanation has been “multiple choice.”
“It was that he had inadequate staff,” she said. “Then the second thing he would tell you is that the files are in the judges office, which we’ve proven was not true… And the other thing he would say is that it was our job. But I’m tired of doing work that is the job of the clerk’s office. And it’s a waste of taxpayers money.”
An official audit of Lineweaver’s office, the results of which were released in March 2006, criticized the Juvenile Court Clerk’s Office for its proclivity for losing, misplacing and otherwise poorly tracking the roughly 70,000 case files it shepherds through the juvenile court system every year.
Additionally, since 2005 state appellate courts have singled out Lineweaver’s office in at least three separate cases for failing to adequately maintain juvenile case files.
“These referees are so frustrated,” Green said. “And the inability to get files, and then when you do get them with missing information or information from other cases, just shuts down the whole system… It just totally ridiculous,”
“I am really embarrassed that it came to this,” she said of Lineweaver’s arrest. “People in Metro deserve a lot better.”
Yet Green said she will not be asking for Lineweaver to step down or resign.
“All I’m asking that he does his job, or sees that the job is done. That’s all I want,” Green said.
Asked if she believed his arrest will get his attention, Green said she was unsure.
“Nothing else has,” she said.
Lineweaver could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His chief deputy, Matt Drury, could also not be reached for comment or to find out if Lineweaver returned to his office Wednesday afternoon.