Bills that could have affected Hosemann die

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 6, 2002

[02/06/02]Lawmakers did not take action by Tuesday on two bills, effectively killing legislation that could have affected Mississippi judges facing criminal charges.

One bill, filed by Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, would have made the process to remove an elected judge from office easier by reducing the number of signatures required on a petition to call a special election. The other, filed by Rep. John Reeves, R-Jackson, would have disqualified a judge from hearing cases while there is a felony criminal charge pending against the judge.

Both bills died in committee without action due to Tuesday’s deadline on general bills and constitutional amendments.

Warren County Judge Gerald Hosemann began hearing criminal cases again Tuesday after putting those cases off for 30 days following his arrest Dec. 28 on felony aggravated assault charges. He is charged in the beating of his former court reporter Juanita “Nita” Johnston.

Under the bill that had been proposed by Reeves, future judges in the position of Hosemann, 49, would not be able to continue hearing cases until the charges were resolved. Along with some civil matters, county court judges also rule on misdemeanor criminal cases including DUIs and assault.

Hosemann also serves as the county’s youth court judge and presides over criminal charges against minors and some custody issues.

Chaney said the bill to make it easier for voters to remove a judge from office was also introduced in previous legislative terms and was not directed at Hosemann. It was, he said, an attempt to “even the playing field.”

Under existing election laws, removal of a judge first requires a petition with the signatures of at least 51 percent of the registered voters in a county, a hurdle deemed virtually impossible since many counties’ voter rolls contain more names than the county population.

Under the bill proposed by Chaney, the number of signatures would be based on the number of people voting in the most recent general election.

In a written statement issued five days after he was released from jail on a $25,000 cash bond, Hosemann said he was innocent and “These charges have nothing to do with my conduct while carrying out the duties of my office, and do not arise from any matters connected with my office.”

He did impose the 30-day criminal case moratorium on himself and stopped hearing contested youth court cases. He has continued to preside over civil matters.

Hosemann faces up to 20 years in prison for the Dec. 6 beating of Juanita “Nita” Johnston if he is indicted, tried and convicted in Hinds County. Johnston spent more than a month in Vicksburg and Jackson hospitals, most of it in intensive care, before being released. Hosemann was arrested based on her statement that he beat her after they argued in a mobile home he owns on rural Puckett Road, an affidavit says.

The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance conducted a hearing last week at the request of State Attorney General Mike Moore to determine if Hosemann should be suspended while the charges are pending. The commission must vote within 30 days on whether to ask the Supreme Court to remove Hosemann until the felony charge against him is resolved.

Hosemann’s attorney, William Kirksey of Jackson, filed a request to have any Supreme Court actions in the matter kept secret, but the Supreme Court refused.