Price files to reinstate charges Hosemann dropped

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002

[12/19/02]As promised, Warren County Prosecutor and judge-elect Johnny Price filed papers Wednesday seeking to have DUI charges dismissed last week by Judge Gerald Hosemann reinstated.

In Jackson, the state Supreme Court refused immediate action to suspend Hosemann and said it wants written briefs by Dec. 26 on whether to remove the judge whose 16 years on the bench end five days later.

On Dec. 10, Hosemann dismissed 15 driving under the influence of alcohol charges, at least two of them second-offense charges.

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Although the defendants were present for initial appearances, not trials, Hosemann has vigorously defended his rulings saying Price, who is to become judge of Warren County Court on Jan. 1, failed in his responsibility to appear as prosecutor or send a substitute.

A transcript of the court session shows defendants slightly confused, but surprised and elated as they realized what was going on. The fine for DUI can be near $1,000 and result in loss of licenses to drive, higher insurance costs and, for many people, loss of jobs.

Price points to a court document dated Dec. 6 and signed by both parties showing Price’s plan to be at a required seminar in Jackson for new judges that day.

The transcript shows Hosemann noting the absence of a prosecution representative and granting dismissals for two people represented by attorneys. Hosemann then turns to a third attorney and says, “Who do you represent?”

After the attorney answers, Hosemann says, “The state has failed to appear. Is he (the defendant) here ready for trial?”

Attorney: “We’re just set for today by ticket, your honor.”

Hosemann: “Are you ready for …”

Attorney: “If the state is not here to present and be ready, I move to dismiss.”

Hosemann: “Granted.”

At least two defendants asked for clarification after Hosemann advised them to hire an attorney and have a dismissal order written for his signature. “What’s dismissed’ mean?” one man asks.

Defendant: “I’m hard of hearing. I just don’t understand. Could you repeat that, sir? I’m sorry.”

Hosemann: Go get an attorney to prepare an order. I’m dismissing the case.”

Defendant: “OK. Thank you. Thank you.”

One defendant had been in the Warren County Jail since Nov. 22 charged with DUI second offense, the transcript shows. Hosemann appointed him an attorney, dismissed the charge and ordered the man released. He also advised a different attorney to stay around and enroll those in the courtroom without attorneys.

Price has said that around the time of his Nov. 19 election he made arrangements to delay all criminal trials in the court until after his bench term begins, on Jan. 1.

He also contends that in any event, he has a legal right to advance notice of actions such as the dismissals.

Hosemann responded that if Price had wanted the cases delayed, the arrangements he made were insufficient and he should have filed a written request for each.

Price’s 15 reinstatement motions are likely to remain unresolved. Although he filed them as prosecutor, he is to be the judge in 13 days, meaning the Supreme Court would appoint a special judge to rule. The same judge would also likely hear the DUI cases because Price can’t hear any case in which he has been the prosecutor of record.

Tuesday, the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance called Hosemann’s actions “clearly detrimental to the integrity of the entire judicial system” and petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend Hosemann immediately “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.”

But the justices on Wednesday asked both the commission and Hosemann to file written briefs by Dec. 26.

If the Supreme Court chooses to discipline Hosemann after he leaves office, it would not be the first time that had happened, Judicial Performance Commission executive director Brant Brantley said Wednesday. Since the most severe of the options available to the Supreme Court in such cases, removal, would bar a judge from returning to judicial office, the commission’s “complaint would not be mooted simply by a judge’s leaving office,” he said.

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

If granted, Hosemann’s suspension would be his second this year. The first 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.