Nearly $10,000 owed to crime victims, DA’s report saysPublished 11:30am Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Victims of crime are feeling the sting of an otherwise trouble-free transition in the Warren County Circuit Clerk’s Office, according to a recent update on fines paid in circuit court.
No restitution checks were sent from the circuit clerk’s office for April, the last full month that former clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree held the post, said Brenda Theriot, victims assistance coordinator for the District Attorney Ricky Smith. The reason is a lag in creating a clean set of fee accounts for interim Circuit Clerk Greg Peltz to restart operations in an office that, in places, had ground to a halt before she was ousted by the county board in May.
“No checks were sent out to any of the victims from April’s payments because Miss Palmertree had not given them out yet,” Theriot told the Warren County Board of Supervisors during a routine update Monday. “I’m getting calls from victims because they’re not getting their payments. They will also not be getting the payments for the beginning of May.”
That chunk of delayed payments for crime victims in the Ninth Circuit District totals $9,857.50, equal to how much restitution was due to victims through May 19. The rest of the month’s payments collected totaled $7,651.41. The district covers Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties.
May’s full amount collected, $17,508.91, more than doubled the $7,794.29 in restitution collected by the circuit clerk’s office during the same time in 2013, records show.
Restitution refers to the return of money to the proper property owner commensurate with a loss. In criminal cases, penalties may also require stolen goods themselves be returned to the victim for harm caused. The payments are often part of conditions that grant a defendant probation or shorter time in jail.
Supervisors declared the circuit clerk’s office vacant May 19 and appointed Peltz, a former retail store manager. The move was based on documents and other evidence state auditors presented to the board showing Palmertree had declared residence in Madison County in 2013 and planned to purchase a home in Canton.
State auditors and county officials continue to pore through case files in April and mid-May to ensure proper payments, according to judgments from the circuit court bench.
“I’ve explained to them the audit and that the board is not responsible for her clearing account,” Theriot said. “Once the audit is done, we’ll know who is paid and who has not been paid.”
The criminal fee account was frozen the day Palmertree was removed from office, a factor that might require the county to ask circuit judges Isadore Patrick and M. James Chaney to put the transfer of the money in the form of a bench order, officials said.
“(County Administrator) John (Smith) and I are working on it with the audit department to get the answers to all the questions,” board attorney Marcie Southerland said, adding and agreeing with supervisors that anything short of completeness in that effort might prompt some victims of burglaries, grand larcenies and thefts to sue the county for funds owed to them.
Theriot noted to the county board a stark change in the working relationship between the clerk’s office and the DA’s office since Peltz was appointed.
“Since Mr. Peltz has been in office, we have been working to get the figures correct,” she said. “In the last report, there was an error on his side and an error on my side. But, together, we were able to find that error and fix them. I’ve not had that working-together relationship to this depth before.”
Two unresolved cases on Palmertree remain before the courts. A civil case, which the former clerk filed against State Auditor Stacey Pickering in March 2013, is set for a third round of testimony Oct. 6 before Hinds Chancellor Dewayne Thomas. The clerk and the other entities have asked the court to decide whether she owes $671,751.75 in excessive salary and questionable subcontractor payments to her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley, between 2006 and 2011. Mediation ordered in the case after testimony in December broke down in January. Attorneys for the state and county have asked Thomas to amend the overall case to pursue $156,500 they say Palmertree owes in over-the-cap fees for 2012. The amount had been demanded after the original suit was filed.
A criminal embezzlement case against Palmertree goes to trial Sept. 29 in Warren County Circuit Court before appointed Judge Henry Lackey, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case. In it, the state says Palmertree inappropriately transferred funds from her office’s criminal and civil accounts to her personal account on two separate occasions in 2012. The amounts total $12,000.