Many of us are familiar with the blatant corruption in some countries where you just pay off the cop that stopped you and be on your merry way. Well, Orange County apparently has its own version of corruption, a court clerk who we might call “The Fixer”.

According to news reports, an unidentified court clerk was fixing DUI charges… for a hefty fee. This clerk was charging thousands of dollars to drivers who were facing DUI and misdemeanor traffic cases in Orange County courts to alter their case record. Among the alterations were changes to case records to create fake plea bargains to a lesser charge, dismissed charges and lowered penalties.

The fixed cases go back to 2006 and are reported to involve over 1,000 cases. It was first discovered late this winter when a single missing document in a DUI case triggered an investigation. The deception was brazen as this clerk not only made up a plea bargain but also “assigned” to the defendants a defense attorney who never actually represented the defendant. The clerk achieved this fraud by figuring out how to enter the computerized court system and make the unauthorized changes.

Unfortunately for the defendants who paid off the court clerk, they are now being called back into court to face the charges. The defendants who paid large sums to this clerk, reportedly thousands of dollars to fix a case, are being given the opportunity to negotiate with the district attorney or the judge or to hire a private attorney. Not only are the defendants out the thousands paid to the clerk, but they are back at square one on their case. But it could be worse: There is no indication that they will also be prosecuted for subverting justice when they chose to pay off the clerk, but they certainly could be prosecuted for these acts in addition to the underlying DUI or traffic violations.

A DUI is no fun and it’s no wonder that these defendants imagined they could make it go away with a payoff to a corrupt clerk. But these defendants have learned the hard way: “There just ain’t no free lunch.” Even though this cost the defendants a pretty penny, they are going to be paying much more and will either have to successfully defend the charge against them or end up with a charge they thought they subverted. The truly “easy way” is to simply not drive under the influence. Yet, sometimes we make mistakes and it is not uncommon for a driver to think he or she is ok to drive when actually his or her blood alcohol is over the limit, if only by a pinch. When that happens, it is much easier to have an experienced DUI attorney on your side than to pay off a corrupt clerk.

As for the court clerk, the future is probably not so rosy. The F.B.I. has even been involved and Orange County prosecutors are no doubt preparing a case that may put this clerk on the other side of justice for many years to come.

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