Case transfer from city irks Moffett

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 12, 2002

[04/12/02]A city judge’s order to transfer a misdemeanor charge against a county law-enforcement employee to Justice Court sends the wrong message to police officers, Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett said Thursday.

The judge, Allen Derivaux, said his action was routine.

The case, a first-offense charge of driving under the influence, was ordered moved to Warren County Justice Court, where three elected judges also hear DUI charges, but normally only those filed by state troopers and county deputies.

In a one-page order, Derivaux says he was responding to an oral motion to move the case. “I see her around the courthouse,” Derivaux said of the defendant, Warren County District Attorney’s office investigator Georgia Lynn. “This happens four to six times a year,” he added.

Moffett said neither he nor the city prosecutor learned beforehand that the case was to be moved from the city court to the county court. The order can’t be appealed.

“It’s not my decision,” Moffett said, “but if it was my decision, I would have left it in city court. I don’t understand why it was transferred. We have multiple city judges and any one can hear a case if there’s a conflict.”

Derivaux was appointed during the administration of former Mayor Joe Loviza and retained by the Robert Walker and Laurence Leyens administrations. He and fellow city Judge Lewis Burke are attorneys who practice law in addition to their courtroom duties.

If Derivaux didn’t want to hear the case, Burke might have agreed to do so, retaining municipal jurisdiction. “I personally feel it sends a bad message,” Moffett said. “We’re striving to have a better department. During the six months I’ve been here we’ve encouraged officers to do a better job. This has the appearance of impropriety about it.”

All parties said there are problems with the city’s case including a blood-alcohol reading of 0.28, about one-fourth of the legal limit, obtained by police at the scene of a March 7 wreck that led to the charge. A motion has been filed to dismiss the charge and is set to be heard Tuesday at 10 a.m. in Justice Court.

Moffett said the case is the first such transfer he has seen since coming to Vicksburg in October. Before coming to Vicksburg he worked in the Biloxi Police Department for 27 years.

“I’m only concerned about my people and the pride I demand they take in their work,” Moffett said. “What message are we sending?”