ERWIN — A Dec. 10 trial date was set for former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris' latest official misconduct charge at a brief arraignment hearing held Wednesday morning in Unicoi County Criminal Court.
On Feb. 16, a Unicoi County grand jury returned one true bill charging Harris with official misconduct for allegedly having an employee of the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department use departmental supplies and equipment in November to prepare a letter soliciting funds to pay his attorneys' fees during the employee's working hours. Harris was the sheriff of Unicoi County when this is alleged to have taken place.
Harris was not present for Wednesday's hearing. His co-counsel, Stacy Street, told Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who was appointed in November to oversee Harris' court proceedings, that Harris had signed a waiver to waive his right to be present at the arraignment. Street also said his client wished to waive the formal reading of the presentment and enter a not guilty plea.
District Attorney General Tony Clark requested that a trial date be set in the matter. Blackwood said due to his schedule, the earliest date available date for the trial to begin would be Dec. 10.
Prior to this latest charge, a Unicoi County grand jury in October returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of attempted aggravated assault, tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation.
Harris appeared in Unicoi County Criminal Court on Feb. 7, where he entered a plea of not guilty to the 10 charges from the grand jury's October session.
Harris is set to begin trial on the criminal simulation and theft over $1,000 charges on July 30. Blackwood said Wednesday that this date would also be used to take up matters pertinent to the charge that was the subject of Wednesday's arraignment hearing regarding motions.
On March 1, Harris submitted his letter of resignation to the county, citing ongoing health problems due to injuries suffered in an August 2010 fall from the roof of the Unicoi County Jail as the reason. Harris made no mention of his 11 felony charges in the letter. The Unicoi County Commission unanimously accepted Harris' resignation at a special-called meeting held on March 9.
On March 26, the county commission appointed long-time UCSD employee Mike Hensley to serve as interim sheriff until the August election, when the office of sheriff will appear on the ballot. Hensley and Unicoi resident James Lengel are seeking the office in the election. The winner will take office on Sept. 1 and fill the remainder of Harris' term, which expires in 2014.