A probate court clerk has been found guilty of a $300,000 theft from The Chambers County Probate Court, using her official position for personal gain. The Probate Court Clerk (Rene Welch (57)) violated Alabama’s ethics law and was found guilty on August 12th. The Chambers County Circuit Court sentenced her to 10 years in prison however the sentence was split with an 18 month custodial sentence followed by a 5 year probation period. The court also ordered Welch to make good full restitution but court records confirm that, at the time of plea, no money had been paid in to the court. As per the plea agreement $299.861.68 of Court money was misappropriated between July 2013 and December 2017. The theft was discovered last November following a report from the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts. The charge against Welch was initially theft of property first degree but later changed to a Class B felony ‘intentionally using an official position or office for personal gain’. A letter was sent to the probate court clerk in which she was requested to pay back the money. Following a meeting with the examiners’ office she failed to show good cause as to why the charges shouldn’t stand and her petition to not pay charges were denied.

Welch worked for former Judge Brandy Easlick of the Chambers County Probate Court. The report around the probate court clerk was made public a few days prior to the general election for the position of probate judge. The election being contested by Judge Easlick and Paul Story (who later won). A statement was released by Easlick confirming the probate office worked for almost a year with the examiner’s office before the release of the report in to the theft. The report detailed how money should be handled on a day to day basis along with the book keeper’s responsibilities. The book keeper has to verify amounts daily and any discrepancies need to be addressed and corrected. The probate court clerk would then prepares the money collected throughout the day and deposits with the bank. There were a number of instances where the cash recorded (deposit slip) was short against cash collected by clerks and verified by the book keeper.

The annual average salary for a court clerk in 2017 was $41,100 as confirmed by The Bureau of Labor Statistics. However clerks working in State government on average tend to earn more at around $44,550. The profession is predicted to grow through to 2026 with a 6.4% growth rate nationally. While court clerks may not see many new judicial openings and/or job growth there will be openings for existing posts due to employees leaving their positions for retirement and other reasons. In a competitive work environment court clerks with applicable experience and degrees will most likely have an edge when it comes to hiring.

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