State judicial panel wants Hosemann suspended

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 18, 2002

[12/18/02]Last week’s dismissal of DUI charges by Warren County Court Judge Gerald Hosemann warrants his immediate suspension, with pay, for his last two weeks in office, the state’s judicial monitors said Tuesday.

But Hosemann, who signed one-page orders dismissing about 16 misdemeanor charges on Dec. 10, said today the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance petition is “absurd and preposterous, just like the last one.”

Hosemann’s dismissal orders give as a reason the absence from court that day of county prosecutor and judge-elect Johnny Price.

Price, whose term begins in January, said Hosemann knew he would be unavailable and that, regardless, no trials were even scheduled for that day.

“These actions are clearly detrimental to the integrity of the entire judicial system and to the public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance said in its petition to the Supreme Court asking for Hosemann’s second suspension this year.

Hosemann said the commission’s petition was “grossly inaccurate” about the facts of what occurred. He said no motions to continue the specific cases he dismissed were filed, that it was Price’s responsibility to let the defendants know court was not scheduled for that day and that Price did not arrange for a substitute prosecutor, as he usually did, for that day.

“(Defendants) have a right to demand a trial within 30 days,” Hosemann said of those who showed up for court, some of whom, he said, had come from as far away as Tennessee.

“The (defense) attorneys did their jobs, and the court did its job,” Hosemann said. “Mr. Price fumbled the ball.”

There was no indication when the Supreme Court might rule on the commission’s petition. Documents also show the commission wants a hearing into the facts surrounding the dismissals, but show no plans to hold such a hearing until after Hosemann’s fourth four-year term ends, by law, on Dec. 31.

In the cases Hosemann dismissed, defendants were scheduled to make initial appearances on the misdemeanor charges, the commission’s petition said. At the appearances, setting a trial date is normally all that occurs. The commission, however, alleges that Hosemann instructed attorneys to prepare dismissal orders for his signature and even told one defendant, who had no attorney, to quickly find an attorney to prepare a dismissal order.

The dismissals drew an angry reaction from Price, who has pledged he would have the charges reinstated.

Saying it was acting on a citizen complaint received Thursday, the commission says its action was “necessary to preserve and restore the public’s confidence in the judiciary and to protect the public and the judiciary from similar conduct during the remainder of (Hosemann’s) term.”

The commission has no power to enforce its findings. Only the state’s nine justices can suspend or remove a judge.

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

Hosemann’s first removal from the bench this year came April 24, two days after he was arraigned on a Hinds County felony assault indictment. That indictment was dismissed a month later after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor disturbing the peace.

After Hosemann’s Dec. 10 dismissals, Price also said he thought they were in retaliation to his Dec. 3 dismissal of a Justice Court assault complaint filed by Juanita “Nita” Johnston, 48, who is Hosemann’s former court reporter, the woman he was alleged in the Hinds County indictment to have assaulted and who has said she is in love with Hosemann. Price said he investigated the charge, which was against the stepmother of Johnston’s daughter, and found it baseless.

Warren County voters chose Price, 56, to replace Hosemann, 50, in a Nov. 19 runoff. The 13-year prosecutor had finished first, nearly polling a majority in a five-candidate field on Nov. 5. Hosemann, who had no ballot opposition since taking office in 1986, finished last with less than 10 percent of the vote.