A News 4 I-Team investigation is raising questions about a court officer’s attendance at work, and how it appears her security access card was used at the Metro courthouse when the worker was home in her bathrobe.
You may remember the police body camera video. Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon and her court officer Kim Soto had an ugly exchange with Metro Police on April 19, a Wednesday.
Kim Soto, the court officer for Judge McClendon, was having a dispute with the gas company. They called the police on Soto, and Soto called her boss, the judge.
Tempers flared. The judge is heard on the police officer’s body cam video saying to the officer, “You are stupid.”
The incident led the I-Team to take a deeper look into Soto’s attendance at work.
One contractor working near Soto’s house told the I-Team he saw Soto at home during normal work hours not just once, but regularly.
“The lady was there the majority of the time,” the contractor told News 4.
News 4 agreed to hide the contractor’s identity because he said he is afraid of retaliation.
The contractor said his company spent four months working in Soto’s neighborhood in Old Hickory – from June until September – and that he saw Soto at home just about every day.
“I think overall when we got there at 7 a.m. and the vehicle was still there at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. We kind of thought she was a night court person,” he said.
“Would you be surprised to learn she was a full-time worker, supposed to be in the courtroom?” The I-Team’s Nancy Amons asked.
“Serious?” he said.
The I-Team asked for Soto’s time records and found there aren’t any.
Judge McClendon wrote us in an email that her employees are salaried and that she keeps “timecards for part-time employees only.”
Judicial employees swipe a card to get into secure areas of the parking garage and courthouse.
News 4 obtained a year’s worth of Soto’s security card swipes.
On April 19, the day Soto was in Old Hickory in her bathrobe, her courthouse security access card was swiped twice.
General Services confirmed that Soto’s card was swiped once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
The I-Team asked Judge McClendon if Soto worked on April 19. The judge wrote in a email: “My recollection from 7 months ago is that Ms. Soto was present at work earlier that day.”
However, a police report says the incident began at 9 a.m., and one officer was still there after 5 p.m.
The judge wrote: “I have no way of knowing when any Metro employee swipes their employee security card in the courthouse.”
News 4 checked the swipes on Soto’s card for the four-month period when the contractor said he saw Soto home almost every day. During the months of June through September, Soto’s card was swiped almost every day.
News 4 reached out to Soto for an explanation, but she did not respond.
We saw her working in Judge McClendon’s court on Dec. 13.
Soto’s work habits raise a lot of questions: what kind of attendance do taxpayers have a right to expect from someone making $68,000 a year? Who’s keeping track of when she works?
The mysterious card swipes raise another issue: courthouse security.
Who swiped the card, if it wasn’t Soto?
The cards allow access to the back hallways of the courtrooms and the suite of judges’ offices.
The I-Team raised these questions with Court Administrator Tim Townsend. He said he plans to address the issue with the judges.
So does anyone hold the judge accountable for keeping up with her employee’s actual hours? The answer, according to the presiding judge for circuit court, is no.
Judge Joseph Binkley told News 4 that judges are not required to turn in, or even to keep, time records for their employees.
The judges are accountable to the voters, or in cases of misconduct, to the state board that has the power to discipline judges.