Hosemann’s trial set for May 28 in Raymond court

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2002

[05/10/02]As requested, an early trial date has been granted to Warren County Court Judge Gerald Hosemann.

Wednesday, Hinds County Circuit Judge L. Breland Hilburn ordered Hosemann’s felony assault trial to start in less than three weeks, on May 28, in Raymond.

The date could change depending on the availability of people, including doctors, prosecutors plan to call, Assistant District Attorney Robert Taylor said. “We’re in the process of locating witnesses and checking on their availability for that day,” Taylor said. That process should be complete by Tuesday, Taylor said. If there are no conflicts, jury selection will begin the Tuesday morning after Memorial Day.

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Hosemann, 50, faces an aggravated assault indictment, accusing him of injuring his former court reporter. The reporter, Juanita “Nita” Johnston, 48, is expected to testify that he is not responsible for her injuries.

Hosemann’s indictment was announced April 22 despite Johnston’s attempts to have the charge dropped. His attorney, Bill Kirksey, responded by saying he would ask for an early trial date. One month between grand jury action and trial is unusual. Felony trials are often six months to a year after indictment.

The trial date was set during what was scheduled to be vacation time for Hilburn, who is retiring, his court reporter said.

“Because of the fact that (Hosemann) is an elected official from Warren County,” the court reporter quoted Hilburn as saying during Wednesday’s hearing, “the people of Warren County are entitled to a swift resolution of the complaint that the people of Hinds County have made against one of their elected officials.”

Missing since Dec. 4, Johnston was found injured Dec. 6 on ranch property Hosemann owns in Hinds County. She spent more than the next month in Vicksburg and Jackson hospitals where she underwent abdominal surgery. In public appearances, she has used a walker.

Hosemann has maintained his innocence, issuing a written statement denying causing harm of any type to Johnston. He has not disclosed a romantic relationship with her, but in her statements, she has professed a long and continuing love for the 16-year judge.

His Dec. 28 arrest, according to a sworn statement by a Hinds County Deputy, followed an interview in which Johnston identified him as attacking her after they had gone to a trailer on the property and then gotten into an argument.

At a hearing Wednesday, Kirksey requested the May 28 date, which Hilburn tentatively set over the prosecution’s objection, Taylor said.

“If we have to go on the 28th, we’ll be ready to go on the 28th,” Taylor said. The fact that several prospective witnesses are doctors has made scheduling them for the early trial more difficult, he said.

Johnston has been treated by many physicians and the attorney who resigned from representing her in a civil case against Hosemann said she exhibited “battered spouse syndrome.” Psychiatric texts identify that as the tendency of some people in an abusive relationship to take the blame and shield those who hurt them.

Hosemann has been under interim suspension from the bench since April 24. The state Supreme Court subsequently appointed Special Judge Sam Habeeb, 33, to handle his duties during the paid leave.

Hilburn announced, before the case reached his court, plans to retire May 31. The case’s going to trial on the tentatively set date would avoid any potential uncertainty over which judge would hear the case after Hilburn’s retirement.

If the case does not go to trial before Hilburn retires, his replacement, whom Gov. Ronnie Musgrove would appoint, could hear the case, or the senior Hinds County Circuit Court judge could reassign it to another judge.

Hosemann was elected in 1986 and has been re-elected without opposition four times since. He filed qualifying papers for the Nov. 5 election Thursday in advance of today’s deadline. Four other attorneys have also qualified to run for the office, which pays $94,600 per year.

No legal provision keeps Hosemann from qualifying for the ballot due to his suspension from the job or the pending felony charge. If convicted, however, state law says he would be removed from office and could not run for that post or any other. He would also face the possible loss of his license to practice law.