Hosemann case heads back to judicial panel

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2002

05/24/02]The state Commission on Judicial Performance now gets the case of Warren County Judge Gerald Hosemann on its agenda for the third time this year with whether to recommend his return to duties as the issue.

Hosemann, 50, pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace on Thursday morning in Raymond and agreed to a $500 fine. An aggravated assault indictment he faced that could have resulted in a 20-year prison sentence was dropped.

His former court reporter, Juanita “Nita” Johnston, 48, said the deal sets things as right as could be expected.

“I’m very, very happy,” Johnston said after the hearing. “It shouldn’t have come to this. There should never have been charges filed in the first place. I’m glad it happened when it finally, finally did.”

Motions aimed at limiting evidence that Johnston initially accused Hosemann of beating her and keeping jurors from seeing or hearing about medical treatment she received were filed in advance of the trial for Hosemann, which had been scheduled to start Tuesday. Johnston had hired her own attorney, Bryan Buckley, who said he filed the motion seeking to keep her medical records privileged.

Johnston was hospitalized for more than a month after being found leaning against a tree on Hosemann’s property on the morning of Dec. 6. Her family had reported last seeing her two days earlier. Thursday, she was walking with a cane.

The misdemeanor plea of no contest does not disqualify Hosemann from serving as judge for Warren County Court, Warren County Youth Court or other judicial or legal professional activities or from seeking re-election to a fifth term in November. But dropping the felony charge does not automatically return him to the bench.

“Today’s events, in and of themselves, don’t conclude the complaint proceedings,” Brant Brantley said, adding that the judicial performance panel’s next meeting is scheduled for June 14.

“That’s the first opportunity the commission will have to consider it,” Brantley said. “The commission is going to have to conclude the complaint in some way. It will decide what action, if any, to take.”

In January, the commission declined to recommend Hosemann’s removal based on his arrest. That changed after the indictment and the Supreme Court, which accepts or rejects commission findings, voted 5-4 to suspend Hosemann with pay. Former South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb is serving in his place.

Johnston and Hosemann both issued written statements during the nearly six-month ordeal that saw many twists, including Hosemann resigning his job and then withdrawing his resignation. Hosemann has consistently denied injuring Johnston in any way.

Her statement, reported by Hinds authorities in their sworn application for an arrest warrant, said Hosemann was in an extended extramarital relationship with Johnston, who is single, and that after an argument, “Mr. Hosemann became very upset and violent. Ms. Johnston stated that she was struck in the head, beaten and kicked in the stomach. …. Ms. Johnston also stated that her feet and hands were tied during this incident. She stated that she was picked up by her hair, and feels she was left to die on Hosemann’s property.”

In March, however, Johnston said she remembered that Hosemann left after they argued and that she was positive he was not responsible for hurting her. A civil suit she had filed against him over property matters was also dismissed.

Over Johnston’s protests, Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson’s office presented the case to an April grand jury, which indicted Hosemann on the felony charge.

“Both Judge Hosemann and I agreed there would be no more comment,” Assistant District Attorney Robert Taylor, the lead prosecutor in the case, said after Thursday’s hearing abruptly ended with Judge L. Breland Hilburn announcing the deal.

Taylor said the relatively early trial date was not a factor in the settlement. “Both sides were ready to go to trial come Tuesday,” he said. “Many subpoenas had already been served.”

Taylor and Hosemann attorney William Kirksey said about 30 witnesses, 15 or 16 for each side, were to be called.

“We’re all moving on with our lives,” Kirksey said. “It would take a good two days trying to find a jury. But the length or how long it would take to pick a jury had nothing to do with what happened.”

Hosemann did not return a call placed to his office after the hearing. His term ends this year, and he has qualified as a candidate for re-election Nov. 5. The four other candidates for the post, Robert C. Arledge, 44; William Bost Jr., 57; Johnny Price, 55, and Clarence A. Whitaker, 59, declined comment on the development.