Courthouse Crowd Shrinks 

A longtime court officer resigns after courtroom furniture turns up missing

A longtime court officer resigns after courtroom furniture turns up missing

First, the Iraqi National Museum. Now the Metro Courthouse? In a story that has downtown lawyers, judges and court workers mystified, a well-liked 30-year Metro employee was asked to resign effective this week after $1,000 worth of courtroom furniture turned up missing.

Three weeks ago, Fifth Circuit Judge Walter Kurtz penned a letter to Joe Kitts, his court officer and longtime friend, informing him that he would be placed on paid leave and that his employment is “terminated as of May 15, 2003.” The judge also asked that Kitts return his building access cards and keys immediately. For Kitts, who spent a good part of his adult life at Kurtz’s side, the letter must have been humiliating.

Earlier that day, Kurtz had filed a police report listing as missing from his courtroom antique door handles, a glass window panel from a door and bookshelves. The report noted that the missing items “are believed to be antique and of major value.”

At the time, city officials were in the midst of moving out of the Metro courthouse so it could be renovated and were relocating various wares to temporary offices in MetroCenter. The door handles, window and bookshelves, however, were supposed to remain at the courthouse.

How and why Kitts wound up with the stolen property remains a mystery. The judge refused to discuss why he terminated his employee, and Kitts couldn’t be reached for comment. One local official told the Scene that Kitts, who was making nearly $50,000 a year, claimed that he was merely holding on to the items for safekeeping. Or, one source speculates, he might have wanted them for sentimental reasons. In fact, the door window read “Fifth Circuit Court Judge Walter Kurtz,” making it unlikely that Kitts was trying to peddle the item on eBay.

“It sounds to me like he just wanted them as souvenirs,” says one attorney who has known Kitts for decades.

Still, taking furniture from a courtroom without telling the judge probably doesn’t constitute good judgment. When the items turned up missing, Metro finance director David Manning asked general services director Mike Bradley to tighten security on the building. Kurtz then filed a police report. When he discovered that Kitts had the items in question, he was probably more than a little embarrassed. The former public defender-turned-judge is known among lawyers to be fiercely protective of his squeaky clean image. Still, it appears that Kurtz ultimately allowed his employee the opportunity to resign, rather than be fired, as indicated by the three-week gap between the date of Kurtz’s letter and the May 15 termination date he gave Kitts. Metro officials say that Kitts already has applied for his pension, which employees can’t do if they’ve been fired.

Metro’s notoriously inbred clique of lawyers, courthouse employees and elected officials have prattled endlessly about Kitts’ resignation. Most of them seem stunned. Well-respected among the courthouse crowd, Kitts was often seen enjoying lunch with the judge. In fact, the pair had a long and friendly history, and most who know them characterize them as having been extremely close.

When Kurtz ran for public defender in the late 1970s, Kitts supported his candidacy and worked for him after he was elected. When Kurtz became a judge in 1982, Kitts served as his court officer, working for him for another 21 years, a tenure that ended this week. Even the termination letter Kurtz fired off contained a small degree of warmth: “I appreciate your long service to the Public Defender’s office and to the court system,” Kurtz’s final line reads.

“Joe has literally been with him since the beginning,” says one local attorney who knows them both. “Lawyers who know both of them are shocked at what happened. Joe’s a great guy.”

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Recent Comments

Sign Up! For the Scene's email newsletters





* required

All contents © 1995-2014 City Press LLC, 210 12th Ave. S., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of City Press LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Powered by Foundation