Price addresses potential jurors,irks fellow candidate Whitaker

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 16, 2002

[07/16/02]One judicial candidate’s speech to potential grand jurors Monday has resulted in an objection from another.

Johnny Price, now county prosecutor and one of the five attorneys seeking the office of Warren County Court judge in November voting, spoke to the 200 to 300 voters called to be considered for the July grand jury about his candidacy before 18 were empaneled.

Clarence Whitaker objected, saying all candidates should have been advised.

“I was not invited,” said Clarence Whitaker, 59, also seeking the judgeship. “I didn’t know that any candidate was going to have the opportunity to speak before the term of court.”

Circuit Judge Frank Vollor, who gave Price permission after receiving a written request, said any of the other four candidates could have had the same opportunity.

Price, 55, did not return phone calls this morning.

Whitaker pointed out that a state statute providing for “reasonable time and opportunity” for candidates for Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, circuit court and chancery court judgeships to “address the people during court terms” makes no mention of candidates for county court judge.

Vollor, presiding over this week’s grand jury deliberations, pointed to the statute that establishes county courts and provides for election of their judges “in the same manner as provided for the election of circuit court judges.”

“My interpretation of the statutes is that candidates for county court judge are to be treated the same as those for circuit court judge,” Vollor said. “They’re to be given the same opportunity.”

Vollor said Price wrote him a letter requesting the opportunity to speak to grand jurors.

“He’s the only one who did,” Vollor said.

The voters are summoned to the courthouse for consideration as potential grand jurors. The 18 selected meet behind closed doors, with their duties including to decide whether enough evidence exists to take criminal cases to trial. They also inspect public buildings and may interview public officials.

Monday’s speech by Price came before the 18 were named and not during the public-official-interview time, usually toward the end of the term.

Before learning the address was in open court, another candidate in the race, William Bost Jr., 57, said today he did not think grand juries sessions were part of “court terms” as defined in the statute.

“To me that statute says that a candidate has the right to address the people assembled in open court during a court term,” Bost said. “It didn’t tell me a candidate can appear in closed session before a grand jury and make a political speech. When (Price) addressed the grand jury it was behind closed doors. It’s critical that the people trust the process and when you operate behind closed doors you leave the perception that something’s going on.”

Robert C. Arledge, 44, and incumbent Gerald Hosemann, 50, are also seeking the judgeship. They did not return phone calls this morning.

This year, as in recent years, grand jury sessions were scheduled for Warren County in January, May, July and October.

Hosemann was first elected to the job in 1986 and has been re-elected without opposition every four years since.

He has pending before the state Supreme Court a petition for reinstatement to the bench, but remains suspended with pay from hearing cases.

The justices removed him April 24 on a state Commission on Judicial Performance recommendation while he was facing a felony assault indictment in Hinds County. That indictment has been dismissed and the commission said its inquiry has ended, too.