Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mayor: Hinds Public Defender Refuses to Work in Clinton Municipal Court

Clinton Mayor Phil Fisher issued the following statement.

Recently, City of Clinton has had problems in the defense of felony cases originating within the lawful jurisdiction of the municipality.

Clinton leadership is concerned, that unless this issue is addressed and brought to light, the effective prosecution of criminals and the public safety of residents could be placed at risk.

Of issue is an extremely serious point relative to the constitutional prosecution and defense of defendants in a criminal proceeding.

The Hinds County Public Defenders office’s (HCPD) refusal to represent indigent felony Defendants as assigned by the City of Clinton Judge in clear conflict with Mississippi Code § 21-23-7 (Powers and Duties of Municipal Judge). The municipal court judge “may conduct preliminary hearings in all violations of the criminal law of this state occurring within the municipality…”

At issue is the refusal of the Hinds County Public Defender’s office to handle preliminary matters in Clinton. This refusal to participate in Clinton’s Municipal Court began several years prior.

Previously, the Hinds County Public Defender refused to attend the City of Clinton court, so the City prosecutor would go to the Hinds County Courthouse. Despite attending court in Hinds County, cases would languish due to absentee judges or other unexplainable circumstances.

State law requires that all defendants receive an initial appearance within 48 hours of charges and must receive a preliminary hearing within 14 days if requested. Defendants must receive an indictment within 90 days.

Due to the inability of the cases to progress through the Hinds County Court system, the City of Clinton now conducts preliminary hearings in Clinton Municipal Court in accordance to applicable state statute.

Clinton Municipal Judge Steven Boone appoints the City’s Public Defender for the preliminary hearings and then binds them over to the Grand Jury. Once a case is sent to the Grand Jury, the case is handed over to the Hinds County Public Defender’s Office in accordance with state law.

According to Clinton Municipal Judge Steven Boone, “the City of Clinton has the statutory authority to conduct all preliminary hearings for misdemeanor and felonies occurring within our lawful jurisdiction.”

Hinds County Public Defender’s Office representatives have now created a constitutional quandary by refusing to represent the defendants. As a result, many defendants languish in jail without indictment.

In refusing to represent indigent defendants, the HCPD is asserting that the City of Clinton does not have legal authority to hear preliminary hearings in the City Court. (Reference: Miss. Code § 21-23-7)

Hinds County Public Defender’s Office representatives are mistakenly referencing state statute, Supreme Court rulings, and Mississippi Rule of Criminal Procedure (MRCP) in relation to appointment of Clinton Public Defender to represent felony cases in Clinton Municipal Court.

In their first objection to accepting Clinton cases, the HCPD representative references an En Banc order from the Mississippi Supreme Court relative to Miss. Code 25-32-9. This case and subsequent order, is in regards to a Circuit Judge attempting to remove HCPD from cases. Wherein, Clinton Court officials are attempting to to get the HCPD to represent our indigent defendants.

A second objection erroneously cited by the HCPD office is Miss. Code § 25-32-1 where they claim that only the Board of Supervisors have authority to establish a public defender’s office. Nothing in the statute precludes a municipality from appointing a public defender. City officials are willing to allow HCPD counsel to represent cases in Clinton, it was only after HCPD refusal to represent indigent defendants in Clinton and cases being delayed in the Hinds County Court that Clinton Municipal Court Judge Steven Boone began the current procedure.

Third, the HCPD erroneously cited Miss. Rule of Criminal Procedure (MRCP) 7. City officials are appointing the City Public Defender to represent indigent defendants as a last resort, when no representative of the HCPD office is in attendance.

In reference to MRCP 6, which outlines procedures for a preliminary hearing, city officials are in clear constitutional compliance by ensuring that defendants receive a preliminary hearing within 14 days if requested.

Efforts to appoint legal counsel for indigent individuals in felony cases arising within Clinton’s lawful jurisdiction have been met with continued road blocks from the Hinds County Public Defender’s Office. These continued obstructions threaten the constitutional rights of defendants and subject the entire criminal justice process to unnecessary derision.

“Once a case is bound over to the Grand Jury, we (City of Clinton) have no jurisdiction on the case. It is the responsibility of the District Attorney’s office to present the case for indictment and the HCPD office to represent indigent defendants once they receive the case from the DA,” Judge Boone added.

Three takeaways that must be addressed to protect the Constitutional Rights of defendants and victims are:

1) the Municipal Judge is acting within his statutory authority as the charges originate in the City of Clinton with Clinton PD as the arresting officer(s)

2) The Municipal Judge tries to appoint the Hinds County Public Defender and has offered to make sure the office is advised of the schedule

3) When no one from the Hinds County Public Defender’s Office is present, the Municipal Judge appoints our Public Defender (it is imperative to the City that all defendants needing Counsel are afforded that constitutional right)

“It is the expectation of every resident of Clinton to be safe and secure in their own community,” stated Mayor Phil Fisher. “It is unconscionable for the Hinds County Public Defenders office to allow criminal cases to go undefended in violation of constitutional rights.”

Kingfish note: The dispute started two months ago. Judge Boone stated in a February 26 email that he would refuse to move preliminary hearings (for felony suspects) to the Hinds County courthouse (p.1).   Ms. Harris responded the next day:

Since there still seems to be some misunderstanding with regard to the municipal courts authority, I am attaching two documents for your review. The first is Appendix I to an order entered by Senior Circuit Court Judge Tamie Green, whom I have also added as a recipient to this email; that sets out the guidelines for court appointed counsel. If you look at subsection (1) it specifically states that all indigent felony appointments will be assigned to the Hinds County Public Defender's Office. The order and this appendix were entered December 1, 2011. The second document is a portion of the En Banc Order entered by the Supreme Court of Mississippi in 2015 which addresses the appointment of public defenders to represent indigent defendants. In that ruling the Court held that by operation of law, the public defender becomes counsel for indigent defendants as soon as they sign affidavits stating that they are unable to employ counsel (which must be done at the initial appearance) . Municipal court public defenders are appointed to handle misdemeanor cases and the Hinds County public defenders handle all felony cases.

The agreed upon procedure that was reached on Monday was that after the initial appearance, Rose will email all information with regard to appointed cases to our office manager, Shondra Dotson. Once the information is received our office would move forth with the scheduling of the preliminary hearing. The decision as to whether the preliminary hearing will be held in Clinton or transferred to County court is made by our office as counsel for our clients....

Ms. Harris wanted to make sure Clinton got the point so she sent another letter on March 11.   She disputed the city's right to appoint public defenders if no one from her office appeared to represent the accused.  She declared that her office has the sole right to represent the defendant once he signed an affidavit of indigency and asked for a public defender. She accused Judge Boone and the city of Clinton of breaking the law in appointing counsel.  She threatened to sue Clinton if Judge Boone continued to appoint counsel to represent felony suspects. (p.5)

 Judge Boone took strong issue with the Hinds County Public Defender and fired back through an email later that day:
I respectively but vigorously disagree with you regarding the law being broken in order to hold  preliminary hearings in the city of Clinton. Your statement that this court is intentionally breaking the law is false and inflammatory  and could not be further from the truth.

I further respectively disagree that you have provided any legal authority that contradicts my authority to hold a preliminary hearing in the City of Clinton.

Under Miss. Code § 21-23-7 (Powers and Duties of Municipal Judge) the municipal court judge "may conduct preliminary hearings in all violations of the criminal laws of this state occurring within the municipality ... "  To my knowledge this statute is up to date and you have provided nothing that would contradict the referenced statute.

The scrum continued through April.  Ms. Harris told Judge Boone her office would not accept any such cases unless appointed at the initial appearance or ordered to take the case by a Circuit Judge.

Mayor Fisher said today that Ms. Harris was "absolutely wrong" to refuse to try cases because they were in Clinton municipal court.

Ms. Purvis said she became aware of the practice when Kenny Lewis notified her that Judge Boone was appointing counsel to felony suspects.  She said her office only has twelve attorneys.  She said she was not disputing the Court's authority to conduct preliminary hearings.  She said the biggest "logjam" takes place between the preliminary hearing and the indictment. 


Anonymous said...

So the county defenders don't want to work on cases in Clinton, but they are mad that Clinton hired their own defenders?

Not surprising.

Anonymous said...

It’s past time for Clinton to succeed itself from Hinds Co.

Anonymous said...

Is this related to all the talk about getting people through the system and out of the Raymond Detention Center? Sounds like Clinton is having the same issues as Hinds County....a bottleneck once the bad guys are arrested.

Law enforcement is doing their job up until the point the accused is incarcerated. This is going to take federal or state intervention.

Anonymous said...

What a Charlie Foxtrot.

Anonymous said...

How does a city "succeed itself"? It thought public defenders are paid to defend people. Believe me, there are plenty of starving attorneys out there willing to do the job. Not glamourous, but it will put food on the table.

Anonymous said...

i live in clinton. i’d vote to leave hinds county for madison, yazoo, warren..whatever county would take us..

Anonymous said...

Extremely long article (lead in) that should have been drastically reduced. How long does it take to cover the pertinent issues and make a point? The writer thought he was submitting a brief to the court.

Get your own damned blog in 3..2..1.

Cynical Sam said...

@3:08 PM - you have succeeded in using the wrong verb (secede).

Anonymous said...

As a criminal defense attorney, this is a power trip by public defender. The defense attorney can request a transfer but it’s up to Judge. She also has no basis to say they won’t represent a person unless they are at initial appearance. Judge is just trying to move cases and she is fighting against him. This my friends is what wrong with Hinds county. A good county with a few bad people in leadership.

Anonymous said...


TheClintonscantsuicideusall said...

I'm sure I'm dense, but in our Municipal Court we use our own Prosecutor, Public Defender and have Preliminary's all of the time all by our lonesome. We will proceed directly to the DA's and AG's office for certain cases. I thought all Municipalities did this. Please, some Lawyer/Judge type, correct me for my edification.

Anonymous said...

Michelle from hell is what we call her. She's beyond dumb. I can't figure out how she will get away with this!!!

Anonymous said...

Pd may want a record which Clinton can not provide on one hand. Clinton wants to control bond amounts so that catch and release don’t happen to Clinton cases. Both have valid concerns

Anonymous said...

The head public defender must have gone to law school with that prosecutor from Chicago who made that brilliant decision not to prosecute that TV actor.

Anonymous said...

@3:32 Madison county doesn’t want Clinton. You’re too far gone.

Anonymous said...

Dunno 'bout that. Would trade Canton for Clinton in the blink of an eye.

Anonymous said...

You don't want to move your city to Madison, do you keep up with what goes on in that county? Madison the city maybe, but they are not looking for a merger partner. Just ask Ridgeland.

But not Madison the county. No way.

Anonymous said...

I'd trade Ridgeland's mayor for Clinton's any day.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the mayor has gotten to far out on his skis. I can understand that a defendent would be at a disadvantage having “good ole boy justice” such as that proposed by City of Clinton. The mayor needs more book in his bookcase and better legal advise from his attorney.

Anonymous said...

Canton= Clinton
I moved from Clinton 4 years ago. Place went down hill quickly. Clinton HS is the next forest hill. In 3 years it will be gone. Just like Byram/Terry area are.

Anonymous said...

the judge doesn't know the difference between "respectfully" and "respectively"

If some writer is too lazy to read it,that is his problem. if he doesn't want to read the whole post, he can ignore it or skip parts.

Anonymous said...

The mayor's statement should include some practical examples to show how this situation is actually affecting indigents' rights in Clinton - boil down all this legalese into something most people have a chance of understanding.

Anonymous said...

Private attorney here.... I routinely get appointed on misdemeanors and felonies by Judge Boone (and prior to that Judge Nixon and before that Judge Lemarca). I was unaware of any of this drama. Graham Conner is the Clinton Public Defender and handles 99% of the cases. I believe Clinton is in the wrong on this. At initial appearance when the Judge does the affidavit stating the defendant is indigent the Hinds PD should be immediately appointed. Instead what I’ve seen happening is that either Graham or a private attorney will be appointed, make all kinds of strategic decisions with the defendant, set the date for a preliminary hearing and THEN the Hinds PD is notified and expected to be at the hearing. With a client who already has spoken with counsel, has a court date which may not work with Hinds PD schedule, and is being afforded all their constitutional rights. Let’s be clear, no defendant has gone without an attorney. The Mayor just doesn’t want to pay for it. Lastly, private attorneys appointed by the Judge are only paid $200 per case (TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS) whether that case takes 3 court hearings or a dozen. Maximum payout per case, felony or misdemeanor, for appointed private attorneys is $200.

Anonymous said...

hey @6:38, what kind of drugs are you on? Check the school ratings and see where Clinton is year after year. They kick your lily white Madison butts every year.

Anonymous said...

6:38, that is laughable. Clinton ain't lily white, but its a community, has been for almost two centuries. And people like it in Clinton.

Madison is newer and nicer and more expensive, but it will never be a community.

Interesting you mention Forest Hill. That whole area was a bedroom suburb, just like Madison. I remember Mayor Hawkins bragging a few years ago that Madison was finally going to be a college town. A non-degree granting branch in a strip mall does not make you a college town and brick columns on Burger King don't make you a community.

Anonymous said...

Somebody on here is consumed with bashing Clinton. What do you get out of doing that?

Back to the topic, I'm not sure the mayor knows what he is talking about. He was just reading from a script.

It would be have gotten much more media attention had they had RSS queued up outside the door.

Anonymous said...

I live in Madison and agree that it will never be a community. It's now a conglomeration of annexed HOAs with the Mayor serving as president of her own HOA that includes all the rest of the streets in the town.

Madison is what Madison is, and as Mayor Hawkins will gladly tell you, "I have no children - Madison is my child".

Madison is nothing more than a fairly safe place to live and a memorial to the mayor. We have choices. Live wherever the hell you want to live.

Anonymous said...

"It’s past time for Clinton to succeed itself from Hinds Co."

Clinton has succeeded at many things for many years. It's primary failure has been in allowing the Patel dynasty to throw up so many joints with bars on the windows and doors and plexiglas in front of the cash registers. That attracts Hinds 'shoppers'.

Anonymous said...

I will take Graham Conner over any Hinds PD on any case period. It’s just a prelim for mercy’s sake. Lighten up Francis. Pds sure think alot of themselves and their importance at this early minor stage .

Anonymous said...

Did I understand correctly that they have 90 days for an indictment according to the statute?
I thought it was Graham Carner not Conner?

Anonymous said...

The Mayor is 100% correct!! The courts and the so called Adults that are in charge need to stop breaking the law and handle the law as it should be handled or get rid of ( Fire, let go, wtf ever they do to dick head judges) the Judge all together he is pointless

Let me clarify for the dumb asses on this thread, I did not make a threat to the dick head judge my meaning of (get rid of) is in parentheses

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