Habeeb’s time on county court extended 2 months

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 28, 2002

[06/28/02]The appointment of Special Judge Sam Habeeb to handle Warren County Court cases was extended for two months by the Mississippi Supreme Court Thursday, apparently because an administrative review of the elected judge, Gerald Hosemann, continues.

Habeeb, 33, was first appointed April 29 for two months after Hosemann, 50, was suspended with pay “until further order” by the Mississippi Supreme Court. That appointment was to expire Sunday.

Hosemann was suspended April 24, two days after he was arraigned on an aggravated assault indictment in Hinds County Circuit Court. The charge against him was dismissed before trial, but a formal complaint against him remains pending before the state Commission on Judicial Performance.

On May 23 the Hinds County Assistant District Attorney’s office said the assault indictment would not be prosecuted and Hosemann pleaded no contest to misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge. Judge L. Breland Hilburn sentenced Hosemann to a suspended jail term of six months and a $500 fine.

“I’ll be back on the bench very soon,” Hosemann said Thursday. “The time I’ve been off has given me time to prepare my lawsuit against The Vicksburg Post and others.”

The Commission on Judicial Performance’s April 23 recommendation was that Hosemann be suspended until the criminal matter was resolved and there was a final determination of the Jan. 16 formal complaint against him.

The complaint accuses Hosemann of two counts of violating Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct of Mississippi Judges. Both counts refer to Hosemann’s Dec. 28 arrest on a charge of seriously injuring his former court reporter, Juanita Johnston, 48. She was hospitalized for over a month after being found injured Dec. 6, missing since Dec. 4, on Hinds County ranch property Hosemann owns.

Hosemann has maintained his innocence throughout and, beginning in March, Johnston repeatedly recanted to Hosemann’s attorney, the press and prosecutors her earlier statement that Hosemann beat her and left her near a mobile home on the property.

On Feb. 15, the commission declined to recommend that Hosemann be suspended since he had not been indicted.

The day after the agreement between Hosemann and the prosecution was announced and again on June 14, when the commission held its next regular monthly meeting but made no announcement on the matter Hosemann requested that the Commission on Judicial Performance promptly recommend his reinstatement to the bench since all criminal charges against him had been resolved. Under state law, no felon may serve in elective office but misdemeanor charges don’t count.

In responses on May 29 and June 17, the commission wrote that it should be allowed to hear the pending formal complaint against Hosemann before any further action by the court.

“Judge Hosemann has now been convicted and sentenced on a misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge,” the commission wrote in its June 17 response. “This conviction and possibly other conduct by Judge Hosemann while his felony charge was pending should be considered and a hearing held by the Commission before the suspension is terminated. The Commission will process this matter as expeditiously as possible within the frame work of its rules, regulations and procedures.”

Neither Habeeb nor the commission’s executive director, Brant Brantley, was available Thursday afternoon.

Administrative Office of Courts public information officer Beverly Pettigrew Kraft said the Supreme Court purposefully keeps interim judicial appointment terms short since it retains the option to extend them and at some points during cases the need for the appointments may become moot.

Hosemann’s current four-year term is to expire in December, and he is one of five candidates in the Nov. 5 general election. He was first elected in 1986 and has been unopposed for re-election for each successive term.

Habeeb, who served one term as Vicksburg’s South Ward alderman, is not a candidate for the judgeship.