Outgoing Hattiesburg judge hires attorney just in case - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Outgoing Hattiesburg judge hires attorney just in case

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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

Outgoing Hattiesburg City Judge Vanessa Jones has hired an attorney to represent her against any possible charges that might arise after the results of an internal police investigation into the municipal court system became public.

Jones is never mentioned by name in the 13-page police report that is at the root of the recent upheaval. The report concluded there was inappropriate conduct between judges and court clerks in the Hattiesburg legal system. Overall, the report said there was a major lack of competence in the municipal court system.

Jones has retained attorney Kim Chaze to represent her in any possible litigation. Chaze said on Friday, "I am privileged to represent Judge Vanessa Jones. Although there have been no accusations against her, I am honored to be her advocate and spokesperson should that need arise. There is no basis for any accusation, but if one is made, it will be dealt with vigorously and honorably."

The investigation also said judges were signing blank court documents for court clerks to fill out at their discretion. The report mainly targeted four clerks, accusing them of accepting gifts in exchange for dismissing tickets and fines as well as destroying court documents.

Jones is not the only judge taking action soon after the report surfaces. Judge George Schmidt submitted his letter of resignation to Mayor Johnny DuPree on August 29 citing interference in the operation of the court by the executive branch of city government.

In a written statement submitted to WDAM-TV on Thursday, Schmidt said, "Judges do not have access to city computers, do not have passwords for those computers, nor do we have defendant's jail files. If a clerk tells a judge that an individual defendant has been in prison or has spent time in jail, the judges have not had reason to doubt that information until the recent allegations of wrongdoing by the court clerks." Schmidt also said clerks do not work for judges, but that they work for the police department.

He concluded by saying "I have done nothing that would bring embarrassment or dishonor to my family, my profession, or the judiciary."

Mayor DuPree plans to replace judges Jones, Schmidt, and Jolly Matthews at the end of the September in favor of a single judge, and the court system will then no longer be under the supervision of the police department but will instead be overseen by the city clerk's office.

As for the punishment doled out against court clerks, one was terminated, and three were suspended. Two have returned to work after serving five-day suspensions without pay, and another received a 10-day suspension. Two have been offered positions elsewhere in the city. The other will return to city court.

Copyright 2012 WDAM. All rights reserved.

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