-Former Hinds County Assistant District Ivon Johnson pleads guilty
-Johnson represented a criminal defendant for nearly 2 years while ADA
-State law forbids prosecutors from representing criminal defendants.
-The Attorney General said there are no exceptions for ADA's.
Former Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Ivon Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy today. The notice provided by the court states:
plea supplement accepted by the court. Sentencing set for 10/13/2016 09:00 AM in Courtroom 4A (Jackson) before District Judge Tom S. Lee. Defendant allowed to remain on present bond. (*Defendant may also retain passport for limited purpose of trip to Jamaica). (*Defendant appeared pro se'..)
Federal prosecutors filed a bill of information last week that charged Johnson accepted bribes in exchange for reducing bonds for criminal defendants. JJ broke the story last week when it reported the bill of information stated:
The primary object of the conspiracy was to obtain money in exchange for favorable treatment in court proceedings in Hinds County, Mississippi..
1. IVON JOHNSON accepted money from a co-conspirator, totaling at least $15,000 throughout the conspiracy, on behalf of criminal defendants, including S.B., an individual charged with a felony offense in Hinds County, Mississippi.
2. On or about October 20, 2014, IVON JOHNSON, as an agent of the Hinds County District's Attorney Office, moved to reduce the bond amount of S.B. from approximately $15,000 to approximately $3,500 in exchange for approximately $500. Earlier post.
However, court records state Johnson engaged in some moonlighting while he was employed as an Assistant District Attorney. Johnson began his employment as a Hinds County Assistant District Attorney on June 1, 2013. The Justice Department indicted Marietta Harris on three counts of identity theft and related crimes in January 2013. Mr. Johnson filed his entry of appearance with the U.S. District Court on March 7, 2013. So far, so good. However, the docket report states on July 11, 2013:
Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Henry T. Wingate. APPEARANCES: Patrick Lemon, AUSA; Ivon Johnson, defense counsel; Chris Whitver, USPO. Change of Plea Hearing as to Marietta Harris held on 7/11/2013. The court continued the plea hearing to allow defendant and defense counsel to thoroughly discuss the charges in the indictment. The change of plea hearing will be rescheduled next week if defendant wishes to proceed otherwise a trial date will be set by the court. (Court Reporter Cherie Bond, 601-608-4186) (TRS) (Entered: 07/11/2013)
Johnson filed a motion to continue for Harris on December 5, 2013:
Judge Wingate issued another order of continuance to Harris on October 1, 2014. The order states Johnson is still Harris's attorney:
The indictment was dismissed in 2015. Johnson's name is not mentioned again in the docket after October 1, 2014. However, that was one case involving Marietta Harris. The Justice Department again indicted her for the use of identity theft to defraud the government. Johnson represented her. The case began on June 25, 2013. See the criminal docket for yourself:
It's so much easier to just post a screenshot than rewrite all of that information into a coherent paragraph. An entry filed on August 26, 2013 states:
Minute Entry for proceedings held before Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball:Arraignment and Initial Appearance as to Marietta Harris (1) Count 1,2-9,10-17 held on 8/22/2013 in Jackson, MS. Appearances: Patrick Lemon, AUSA; Ivon Johnson, retained attorney; Lynda Tillis, USPO. Reading of Indictment waived. Plea of not guilty to all counts entered. The government did not object to bond and the Court placed Defendant on bond. Defendant will be released after processing by U.S. Marshal Service. (Tape #8-22-2013-FKB; 17:17-17:35) (JEJ) (Entered: 08/26/2013)Johnson's representation of Harris continued. An August 22, 2013 trial order states:
Another entry was posted to the docket on September 20, 2013:
Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Henry T. Wingate. APPEARANCES: Patrick Lemon, AUSA; Ivon Johnson, retained counsel; Chris Whitver, USPO. Change of Plea Hearing as to Marietta Harris held on 9/20/2013. The court did not accept the defendant's plea of guilty. (Court Reporter Cherie Bond, 601-608-4186) (TRS) (Entered: 09/20/2013)
Keep paying attention to these dates. Johnson filed a motion to continue on September 20, 2013:
Harris pleaded guilty on March 5, 2014. Guess who her lawyer was?
Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Henry T. Wingate. APPEARANCES: Patrick Lemon, AUSA; Ivon Johnson, retained counsel; Brooke Sullivan, USPO. Change of Plea Hearing as to Marietta Harris held on 3/5/2014. The defendant pled GUILTY to Count 1 of the indictment. The Plea Agreement and Plea Supplement were made a part of the record. The Plea Supplement will be filed UNDER SEAL. The defendant's factual basis statement was also made a part of the record. ( Sentencing set for 5/15/2014 10:30 AM in Courtroom 6A (Jackson) Wingate before District Judge Henry T. Wingate ). The defendant remained free on current bond under the same conditions and restrictions as set forth. Court Reporter/Transcriber Cherie Bond, Telephone Number : 601-608-4186. (TRS) (Entered: 03/05/2014)
You can't make this up:
The sentencing was postponed on May 23, 2014. Johnson was still representing Harris:
Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Henry T. Wingate. APPEARENCES: Patrick Lemon, AUSA; Ivon Johnson, retained counsel; defendant not present; Athena Staires, USPO. Sentencing held on 11/20/2014 for Marietta Harris. The court was advised the defendant was not present due to the hospitalization of her child. Sentencing was continued. The court requested the following report be submitted: 1) child's current condition, 2) when did the child's condtion worsen, 3) what type of treatment is the child receiving and over what period of time, and 4) what other relatives can care for the child if the defendant must be away. Further, the defendant was ordered to meet with the USPO at an appropriate time, and counsel should submit written objections to USPO and government's counsel. Court Reporter/Transcriber Gina Morris, Telephone Number : 601-608-4187. (TRS) (Entered: 11/21/2014)
Fast forward to another notice entered on April 8, 2015:
Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Henry T. Wingate. APPEARANCES: Patrick Lemon, AUSA; Ivon Jonson, retained counsel; Athena Staires, USPO. Sentencing held on 4/8/2015 for Marietta Harris (1). ...... (Entered: 04/08/2015)
Johnson's representation of Harris apparently ended on April 30, 2015. Attorney John Holaday notified the court that day that he was representing Harris.
Employment records obtained through a public records request state that Johnson's employment began on June 1, 2013 and ended on July 5, 2016. The records state:
*His effective hire date was June 1, 2013.
* The District Attorney increased his salary to $87,823 in May 2014.
* The District Attorney issued a $3,000 annual supplement to Johnson in October 2014.
* Johnson was terminated by the District Attorney on July 5, 2016.
The date is important because the Mississippi Code and Attorney General have something to say about Assistant District Attorneys acting as criminal defense attorneys in other jurisdictions. Section 25-31-36 of the Mississippi Code states:
The Attorney General stated in a March 4, 1987 opinion for ironically Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters asked if the six-month grace period applied to criminal cases as well as civil cases since the law did not mention criminal cases. The request apparently applied to Bobby Delaughter (Again, you can't make this up.). The opinion states:
(1) Except as otherwise provided herein, no district attorney shall engage in the private practice of law. However, district attorneys may continue to practice for a period of time, not to exceed six (6) months from the date of taking office, in any of the courts so far as to enable them to bring to a conclusion civil cases actually pending in which such district attorneys were employed when they were appointed or elected.
*2. In response to your second question, it is the opinion of this office that a legal assistant to the district attorney may not continue in the practice of criminal law in any geographical or jurisdictional area. The only exception allowed a district attorney is in the conclusion of a civil matter and we are of the opinion no broader privilege could be delegated to his legal assistant..... (Rest of opinion. It is Opinion #121539 if the link does not work and readers want to search the AG opinions database.)
It appears Johnson's representation of Harris while he was employed as a Hinds County Assistant District Attorney may violate the law.