Stirgus’ retirement unaffected by VHA suit settlement

Published 1:52 pm Monday, March 24, 2014

A $1 million wrongful termination and defamation suit filed in 2010 by former Vicksburg Housing Authority executive director James Stirgus Sr. against the VHA board and two other city officials was settled for $25,000, court records show.

According to Warren County Circuit Court records, Special Circuit Judge Richard W. McKenzie signed the order dismissing the suit on Nov. 8. The order was filed Dec. 2 with the clerk’s office. The suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning Sturgis cannot file a suit on the issues again.

Stirgus, who was fired in 2009, filed his suit on May 14, 2010, naming former mayor Laurence Leyens, former Vicksburg police chief Tommy Moffett, and VHA commissioners Christopher Barnett Sr., Abraham Green, Jay Kilroy and Charles Wright as defendants. Barnett and Green are the only two commissioners of the four still on the board.

According to court records, the board settled with Stirgus for $15,000, and

Leyens and Moffett settled for $5,000 each.

The suit claimed the four commissioners conspired with Leyens and Moffett to get Stirgus out of office through a smear campaign.

It surfaced in the past week as the VHA Board of Commissioners met in closed session to discuss whether Stirgus’ retirement was affected by his firing in 2009.

Barnett, the board’s chairman, said after the meeting last Tuesday that Stirgus’ retirement was not affected. He declined to comment on the settlement, saying he had not received word that Stirgus had signed off on it. Attorneys for the board and Leyens confirmed Friday that the case had been settled.

Stirgus declined to comment on the settlement, referring any questions to his attorney, Travis T. Vance. Attempts to contact Vance were unsuccessful.

Barnett, Green, Kilroy and Wright were appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to the VHA Board in February 2009 in the wake of the arrest of Charles Jones Jr., a VHA employee in charge of maintenance and purchasing, who was charged with trafficking cocaine and later with embezzlement for stealing  $4,370.55 in VHA property, which was found at his home.

The VHA board fired Stirgus three months later on May 19, 2009.

In a Vicksburg Post article written the day he was fired, Stirgus, who fired Jones in 2008, said he allowed Jones to keep VHA property at his home, but did not know if the items were stolen. “I don’t believe it was (stolen), then or now, because I haven’t seen it and I don’t know what was there (in Jones’ house),” he said in the article. Stirgus was never charged or implicated in any crime.

Jones was indicted in May 2009 by a Warren County grand jury for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The embezzlement indictment came later.

He pleaded guilty in November 2009 to possession of cocaine and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The other drug charge and the embezzlement charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement. He was paroled in February 2012 and is living in Warren County, according to Mississippi Department of Corrections records.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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