Hosemann throws out DUI casesIncoming judge Price says charges will be reinstated

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 11, 2002

A sweeping dismissal of DUI charges by departing Judge Gerald Hosemann has brought an angry reaction from the county prosecutor and judge-elect along with a pledge the charges will be reinstated.

“All Judge Hosemann has done is cost the taxpayers of Vicksburg more money and given us another black eye over here,” Johnny Price said.

Sixteeen cases were dismissed Tuesday by Hosemann with no evidence and no testimony presented, records in the Warren County Circuit Clerk’s Office showed this morning. The cases primarily involved charges of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Price has been county prosecutor for 13 years and, in that role, normally presents the state’s argument for convictions to the judge. But after being elected in a runoff Nov. 19 to replace Hosemann, Price was in Jackson attending mandatory training before taking his judicial oath Jan. 1.

If a prosecutor is not present, a judge can dismiss a charge without a hearing. Price, however, said Hosemann knew he would be unavailable.

A court document dated Friday and signed by both Price and Hosemann said Price “more than two months ago instructed the Administrator not to set anymore DUI cases or criminal actions until after the first of the year.” It also said the county prosecutor had customarily set all DUI (trial) dates with the court administrator’s office.

“They have been dismissed without authority of law,” Price said of the DUI charges. “As soon as I am sworn in I’m going to order the new county prosecutor to reinstate them.”

County Court normally hears appeals of DUI convictions from municipal and justice courts. Since Price is the prosecutor of record in the cases, he will recuse himself and the Mississippi Supreme Court will appoint another judge to hear the reinstated charges, he said.

Hosemann declined to comment on Tuesday’s proceedings, but did confirm that he held court Tuesday morning.

“There was a whole courtroom full of people here who didn’t know court was canceled,” he said.

Price said he was told by attorneys who were present that Hosemann dismissed charges against some defendants who were there only for initial appearances, not trials.

“All he needed to do was to tell them to come back in January,” Price said. “I’ve got a DUI date set then.”

The scheduled January transition is the first for the judgeship in 16 years. In November’s general election, Hosemann faced his first opposition in a political campaign since the year he took office, 1986. He placed fifth of five candidates, receiving less than 10 percent of votes cast.

Price, the county’s elected prosecuting attorney for the past 13 years, nearly won a majority of votes that day. Two weeks later he was elected to the office in a two-candidate runoff in which he received nearly 80 percent of the vote.

Hosemann was suspended from office for three months earlier this year by the state Supreme Court. He faced a Hinds County felony assault indictment that was dismissed after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor disturbing the peace on May 23.

Price also said he thought Hosemann’s dismissals of the DUIs were in retaliation to his Dec. 3 dismissal of a Justice Court assault complaint filed by Juanita “Nita” Johnston, 48, who is his former court reporter, the woman he was alleged to have assaulted in the Hinds County indictment and who has said she is in love with Hosemann.

In late October, Johnston filed the complaint that her daughter was assaulted by her daughter’s stepmother. Price dismissed that charge, saying he had investigated it and found it baseless.

“This is obviously in retaliation for me dismissing Nita Johnston’s simple assault charge,” Price said this morning. “I did that over Hosemann’s strong objection.

“Those dismissals (of the DUI charges Tuesday) will not stand. I would advise those people (whose charges were dropped) to get back in touch with their lawyers.”