Hosemann denies Moore plea, returns to bench

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Seen through the window of one of the doors leading into the Warren County Courtroom, Judge Gerald Hosemann presides over a trial Monday morning.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[01/08/02]In the face of the attorney general’s request that he be removed, Judge Gerald Hosemann held court Monday, and his attorney later released a statement saying the judge had passed a private lie detector test on whether he beat a woman a month ago.

The woman, former court reporter Juanita “Nita” Johnston, 47, remained in a Jackson hospital. Hosemann faces Hinds County felony charges of aggravated assault.

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According to Hosemann attorney William Kirksey of Jackson, the polygraph test was administered Thursday in Kirksey’s office by David P. Bethea, a licensed examiner. Bethea reported that Hosemann said he did not “hit, strike, kick or cause physical harm to Nita Johnston.” He also said Hosemann did not know who harmed her.

Hosemann, 49, presided over civil cases in Warren County Court and matters at Youth Court Monday despite calls from Attorney General Mike Moore that he be temporarily removed until the charges are resolved.

The judge was arrested Dec. 28 and charged with beating and kicking Johnston, who was found severely injured on his property near Utica on Dec. 6. He was released from jail on bond, set with restrictions, including that he stay at least 500 feet away from Johnston and her family.

Neither Hosemann nor Kirksey has offered an alternative explanation as to how Johnston was injured or how she came to be left on the 16-year judge’s property.

The polygraph examiner was apparently employed by Kirksey and the favorable result was made public, but cannot be presented in any trial.

“Polygraph tests are not admissible because they are not sufficiently trustworthy by the rules of evidence,” said Ronald Rychlack, associate dean for the University of Mississippi School of Law. “If we were to rely on them in court, you could be deceived by their false readings.”

Yet despite their lack of reliability, the tests are conducted in order to help a case.

“Police officers offer them to support their findings and defense attorneys offer them to clear their client in newspapers,” Rychlack said, “but those things are not in court and are not held to the level of exactness we have in court.”

In returning to the bench, Hosemann has elected to handle only civil matters and uncontested Youth Court matters, avoiding criminal cases primarily drunk-driving charges and city appeals for 30 days.

“I do not have ice water running in my veins,” he said after court adjourned Monday, referring to his ability to continue with his judicial duties despite the charges against him.

“I am concerned about Nita’s condition. I am disturbed about what my 83-year-old mother and my family are having to go through, with what’s been printed in our local paper and other media,” he said.

“The only way I could ever function is the fact that our God, myself and others know that I am totally innocent,” he said.

State law allows judges and other public officials to remain in office until they are formally convicted of a crime, unless they are removed by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance after a review process.

Moore has filed a complaint with that commission asking that Hosemann be removed from the bench until the assault charge is resolved.

Brant Brantley, executive director of the commission, said he did not know when a decision would be reached regarding Hosemann.

The commission’s recommendation, if any, would be filed with the state Supreme Court, which makes the final decision.

Hosemann has served as Warren County Court and Youth Court for 16 years.

Throughout Monday’s proceedings involving a dental software dispute, Hosemann peppered his questioning with an occasional reference to his predicament.

While questioning a defense attorney about the the contract in question, he asked if it allowed for “anything … for fraud, misrepresentation, lies …. assault?”

“Assault is a criminal matter,” the attorney responded.

“I understand that well,” Hosemann responded with a short laugh.

The relaxed proceedings were a return to normalcy for the judge.

“It’s a great pleasure at this time to have this problem to wrestle with,” he said to the attorneys, after asking them to submit documents for him to review before ruling on Friday.

Johnston remains at University Medical Center where she is undergoing physical therapy to help her walk again after suffering severe injuries to her abdomen and lower back.

In the sworn statement Hinds County deputies used to obtain the arrest warrant for Hosemann, she said he tied her up, beat her and left for dead.

Johnston was last seen with Hosemann on Dec. 4. She said in her statement to police that the two have had a long-term relationship “for numerous years.”

She was found two days later by Hosemann and Billy Leist about 10 feet behind a mobile home on the property after a search was initiated by members of her family.

Johnston spent 24 days in the Critical Care Unit at ParkView Regional Medical Center where she was guarded by 24-hour security before being transferred to Jackson.

She worked 20 years as a court reporter, mostly in Hosemann’s court, before retiring. She is single. Hosemann is married to his second wife, but divorce papers are pending in Hinds County.