Palmertree criminal trial set for March

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree will stand trial in March before a specially appointed judge for three counts of embezzlement.
Palmertree waived arraignment did not appear in court Monday with other defendants indicted this month by a Warren County grand jury. A waiver of arraignment, released Monday by the Attorney General’s Office list Ashley-Palmertree’s trial date as March 24.
Attorney James “Buck” Penley Jr. signed the waiver. Palmertree has been defended by Penley and Frank Vollor, a retired circuit court judge.
The Mississippi Supreme Court has appointed senior status judge Henry L. Lackey to preside over the trial after both local circuit judges — M. James Chaney and Isadore Patrick — recused themselves.
Palmertree was arrested Thursday after being indicted by a Warren County grand jury for three counts of embezzlement. She was previously indicted in August for two counts of embezzlement, but the charges were dropped because of a docketing error.
In the latest indictment, Palmertree is accused of inappropriately funds on three occasions from her office’s civil and criminal accounts into her circuit clerk fee account.
The circuit clerk’s office collects fines and fees and restitution in criminal and civil cases. State law requires those funds remain in their designated accounts.
Between Feb. 2 and Feb. 21 she is accused of transferring $5,000 from her office’s criminal account into the account from which she draws her salary, according to the indictment.
She is also accused of twice inappropriately transferring funds from the civil account into her personal account — once for $3,000 between Nov. 7 and Nov. 15 and once for $4,000 between Nov. 19 and Nov. 21.
Attorney General Jim Hood’s office will lead the criminal case against Palmertree. The case was investigated by the State Auditor’s Office who turned over their findings to District Attorney Ricky Smith last April.
Smith recused himself and gave the case to the Attorney General’s Office, citing ethics rules that don’t allow prosecutors to have contact with defendants between indictment and trial.
The Board of Supervisors in February 2013 demanded Palmertree pay more than $600,000 the board said she owes the county. The total includes $163,700 paid to Palmertree’s father, Larry Ashley, as subcontractor fees during the same time periods and noted in the auditor’s statement this morning.
Palmertree, who is in her third term as circuit clerk, succeeded her father in office in 2004.
Under state law, a circuit clerk is allowed to employ a relative if the payments to the clerk and relative together do not exceed the cap of $90,000.
A civil case against Palmertree will go into mediation Thursday.
In December, Hinds County Chancellor Dewayne Thomas ordered the case involving numerous suits and countersuits into mediation to determine if the Palmertree owes the more than $670,000 in excessive salary and subcontractor fees. The amounts involved in the suites date from 2006 through 2011.
About $156,500 in overages for 2012 not included in the case have been demanded separately by Board of Supervisors.
If mediation fails, the case moves back to Hinds County Chancery Court in April.