Judge to fire chief: Help certify firefighter

Photo by Lisa Bishop

Photo by Lisa Bishop

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty Superior Court chief judge has ordered Albany Fire Chief James Carswell to "attest to the good moral character" of a firefighter who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft charges in 2003, so that the firefighter can be recertified as a Georgia firefighter, court documents show.

Joseph Pait pleaded guilty in 2003 to criminal trespass and theft charges in Lee County and was sentenced under Georgia's First Offender Act to probation.

One week later, Pait was dismissed from the city of Albany's fire department by then-chief James Arrowood. Pait appealed to then-City Manager Janice Allen Jackson, who upheld Arrowood's determination.

Pait then sued the city for wrongful termination and, in January 2010, was ordered reinstated to the city's fire department.

Court documents show that since that time, the city has reinstated his pay and has taken steps to get Pait recertified as a firefighter by the Georgia Standards and Training Council, including paying for his books, his tuition and other costs associated with the training.

But before Pait can be recertified, he has to submit a packet that contains, among other things, a document signed by Carswell "attesting to the applicant's good moral character," court documents show -- a document Judge Willie Lockette says Carswell has refused to sign.

Neither Carswell, Pait, nor City Attorney Nathan Davis can comment on the situation because of a gag order Lockette put on the case, but Carswell's protest appears to be based on the same reasoning given by Jackson when she upheld Pait's termination early in 2004.

"I do not contest that you were released and given probation under the auspices of First Offender Treatment; however, this does not negate the fact that you entered a guilty plea for the charges brought against you," Jackson wrote in a letter to Pait in 2004. "Furthermore, I feel that your continued employment with the city of Albany would jeopardize the high standard of trust our community bestows upon its employees."

Pait's attorney, Maurice King, told The Herald at the time that the city's decision to fire Pait was without cause and was actually based on additional charges filed in Dougherty County, which, while much more severe than misdemeanor theft counts, were dropped after a jury found Pait not guilty.

Lyn Pardue, executive director of the Georgia Fire Training and Standards Council, said he was aware of the situation and said that Pait's application, once received, would be forwarded to the council for consideration of certification.

"If it comes across my desk, I will take it before the council," Pardue said. "They'll have the final say on certification."