June 4, 2009
Ex Parte Contacts Draw Reprimand
The Mississippi Supreme Court approved a sanction that had been proposed by the Commission on Judicial Performance and imposed a public reprimand along with a fine and costs of a justice court judge. The matter involved a defendant charged with distirbing the peace of one Candi Bernard. The defendant was hospitalized and unable to attend her initial court appearence. The judge was advised of this by the defendant's mother.
The judge presided over the subsequent trial and found the defendant guilty. After the victim and her family had left the courtroom, the judge set aside the finding and ordered that the defendant attend anger management training. The judge indicated that he had spoken with the victim and her family prior to the hearing. The judge then took up another matter involving the same defendant without giving her prior notice or the opportunity to secure counsel. He found the defendant guilty of simple assault in that matter.
A Natchez newspaper reported the disturbing the peace conviction without mentioning that the sentence had been set aside. The judge spoke ex parte with the defendant about the article and told her "she should be glad he did not give her jail time because she brought people into his courtroom that he did not care for" in a manner that the judge admitted was "impolite." He had another ex parte conversation with the defendant and, as a result, gave her a handwritten note for her employer about the verdict. He did so "in part because he was intimidated by [the defendant]."
The judge had a record of prior discipline for similar misconduct. (Mike Frisch)
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