Mayoral candidate Winfield resigns as board’s attorney

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2008

Citing his candidacy for mayor of Vicksburg in 2009 and time-consuming campaign, attorney Paul Winfield handed his resignation as board attorney to Warren County supervisors Thursday.

In a one-paragraph letter presented as the board met, the 34-year-old lawyer described his tenure as “an overwhelmingly positive experience.”

“I won’t leave you empty-handed, though,” Winfield told supervisors, assuring them his successor, yet to be named, will receive his full assistance in several pending legal matters. “I’ll be more than happy to help out in any way possible.”

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Winfield is one of two announced challengers to incumbent Mayor Laurence Leyens for the top job at City Hall. Former alderman Gertrude Young has said she will file qualifying papers during the qualifying period for all three city elective positions, which starts in January and ends March 6.

Both aldermen, Sid Beauman in the South Ward and Michael Mayfield in the North Ward, have said they will seek re-election and have drawn no announced opposition. Beauman will be seeking a third, four-year term. Mayfield, who defeated Young in 2005, will be seeking a second term.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, who lost his mayoral bid to Leyens in 2005, said Thursday he will not run for mayor, but will support a candidate once the field is determined.

“I think the field is going to be more than what it is today,” Selmon said.

Winfield’s resignation is effective Dec. 31. Also city attorney for Port Gibson, Winfield said he will remain in that post for some time after the new year.

Warren County supervisors are expected to hire a new attorney on Jan. 5 when considerations for other positions serving at the will and pleasure of the board are made.

Board President Richard George said the search for another attorney will resemble procedures for other professional services. In those instances, sealed proposals are requested and gathered for specific purposes, with rights reserved to the county for negotiating conditions and compensation.

Advertising for the position “is not necessary in that field,” George said, adding there will be “some sort of selection process” to fill the position.

Former board counsel Randy Sherard, who has done legal work for the county in instances involving various grant programs since being replaced by Winfield in 2005, remains a leading candidate.

“He would be given a great deal of consideration,” George said.

Sherard, also a civil engineer, downplayed any keen interest in the post, but emphasized his 13 years of experience with the board as a plus. “I’m not seeking it, but I’d certainly be interested,” Sherard said.

Winfield was unanimously approved for another year in January, as supervisors cited his work representing the county in costly litigation involving landowning groups that are challenging the county’s subdivision and floodplain ordinances.

The cases began in county court system and led to a federal racketeering suit that named each supervisor and Winfield as defendants. Hearings in the federal case are expected to begin in September 2009. Local attorney Ken Rector represents the county in that case. A ruling in September in the chancery case, where Winfield represents the county, deals with county road maps and is under appeal.

Additions stemming from the suits to the county attorney’s usual work load is somewhat evident in how much Winfield has been paid — a key issue the last time the board attorney’s position was contested.

An attorney general’s opinion in 2004 upheld state law stating a county board has the permission to hire its attorney as an employee and be paid a supervisor’s salary. In Warren County, supervisors are paid $44,812 annually and they do not believe the statute applies here.

Hourly fees are paid to the county’s engineering firm, ABMB Engineers Inc., for work pertaining to street paving and infrastructure needs. During Sherard’s tenure and Winfield’s, the attorney was paid similarly. Invoices show Winfield collecting $61,208 during fiscal year 2007-08, usually billed monthly. During 2006-07, Winfield’s fees totaled $69,292. Sherard was paid $53,255 in his most recent year serving the board as its attorney.

His 5-0 vote of confidence by supervisors is also significant in terms of the board’s makeup for this year.

The re-election of Bill Lauderdale in District 4 meant a majority of the board would consist of those who supported Sherard during his previous tenure. Selmon was joined by Mayfield, then the District 2 supervisor, in opposing Sherard in consecutive votes on the appointment.

Also a licensed civil engineer, Sherard was tabbed by supervisors earlier this year to assist with the county’s legal position in bankruptcy proceedings involving DiamondJacks Casino and its creditors. Supervisors OK’d the move in anticipation the company would move to recoup property taxes.

Despite Winfield’s request to have Sherard’s help on the case, the board still split 3-2 on the matter — with Selmon and current District 2 Supervisor William Banks opposing Sherard’s hiring.

In May, the board set an hourly rate of $150 for Sherard on the case, in which a reorganization plan is expected to be filed by the company by year’s end.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at