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Judge rejects plea deal
McCord returns to court Oct. 7
3 McCord in court pic
Northeastern Judicial Circuit Judge Kathlene Gosselin rejected the plea from Becky McCord, center, former Dawson County Clerk of Courts, on Friday. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

Former Dawson County Clerk of Courts Becky McCord will be back in Superior Court next month after a judge rejected her guilty plea on theft by taking and violation of oath of office charges.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin did not publicly say Friday why she refused to accept the plea, which had been negotiated and approved by both the state and McCord's attorneys.

According to the proposed negotiated agreement, the sentence would have run concurrent with McCord's federal prison time.

On Sept. 14, the 62-year-old McCord was sentenced to 24 months on tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud charges in federal court in Gainesville. She pleaded guilty to those charges in June.

"I am so sorry for the pain, hurt and humiliation I caused the people around me," McCord said before Senior U.S. District Judge William C. O'Kelley handed down the federal sentence.

"They have the right to expect more from a public servant. I know I have failed."

O'Kelley said McCord's role as a public official was not considered in the sentencing.

"There's been a lot of talk about her as a public official. This court shouldn't take that into consideration," he said. "I'm not sentencing on that. That's up to Dawson County."

McCord is accused of taking more than $140,000 from the Dawson County Clerk of Courts office, where she had served for more than 17 years. She was arrested in February 2010 and resigned the next month.

The rejected plea agreement presented Friday would have been contingent upon McCord paying Dawson County $15,000 in restitution by Oct. 7.

The county has already received insurance payments that cover the theft. The $15,000 represents the county's insurance deductible.

"The core of this case is public corruption," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Grimberg. "For three years she used her Dawson County account as her personal piggy bank. She used that money to fund her lifestyle."

Family and friends turned out to support McCord during both hearings last week.

Prior to the federal court sentencing Sept. 14, several spoke to her character and dedication and encouraged the court to have leniency regarding jail time.

"Becky is my niece. She's also my caregiver," said 85-year-old Maude Harben. "I would plead with you to allow Becky to return to our community."

Supporters later produced a cashier's check for $51,611, which settled McCord's restitution in the federal case.

Bruce Harvey, McCord's lead attorney, also presented the court with a petition containing the signatures of hundreds of community members.

"It's very rare that I get to present the court with 500 people that will vouch for an individual appearing in court," Harvey said. "I don't disagree that our public officials should act with moral and fiscal responsibility. At the same time, our public officials are no less human beings than the rest of society."

Following the sentence, McCord said she looked forward to getting on with her life.

"They can't take away your soul and your salvation," she said.

Northeastern Judicial District Attorney Lee Darragh declined to comment on the state's case against McCord.

According to authorities, McCord, as clerk of courts, was entitled to nearly $60,000 of fees paid to her office for issuing passports between 2004-09.

During that same time period, however, investigators say McCord wrote checks to herself on a civil account that totaled more than $211,000.

Dawson authorities began investigating McCord after learning Donna Sheriff, her chief deputy clerk, had written two dozen checks to a former contract worker on a court's account.

Both Sheriff and the contract worker, Justin Disharoon, pleaded guilty to theft charges in 2010. Their sentencing has been delayed until McCord's case is settled.