County: Clerk to offer plea in criminal trial

Published 11:16 am Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Former circuit clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree.

Former circuit clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree.


A plea agreement is in the works in the criminal case against former circuit clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree, county officials acknowledged Monday.

Terms of an agreement calling for the ousted clerk to receive a five-year suspended sentence will be discussed before retired judge Henry Lackey, board attorney Marcie Southerland told the Warren County Board of Supervisors during an update following a closed session on a separate civil case involving Palmertree. Lackey was appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear arguments in the criminal case.

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No date was set to hear arguments in the case, Southerland said late Monday, counter to an email copied to her office last Thursday that had indicated one would take place this Thursday. Opening arguments had been set for Sept. 29.

“It’s been made and accepted by Miss Palmertree,” Southerland said.

Details of the agreement in the works call for Palmertree to pay $12,000 as restitution, Southerland said. The case was set for trial in two weeks in the Ninth Circuit Courtroom in Warren County, the same court over which Palmertree was the clerk for nearly 11 years. Case files showed she was accused of inappropriately transferring that money from her office’s criminal and civil accounts to her personal account on two occasions in 2012.

Palmertree was removed from office by county supervisors when evidence surfaced that she had declared residence in Madison County in 2013. The board appointed to the post Greg Peltz, who faces four opponents in a special election to take place alongside other races Nov. 4.

Word of the pending agreement accompanied that of the third continuance issued by Hinds County Chancellor Dewayne Thomas in a civil matter involving more than $1 million in collections between 2006 and 2011 State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Warren County say were improper.

In July, attorneys for State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Warren County asked Thomas to amend the overall case to pursue $156,500 they say Palmertree owes in over-cap fees for 2012. Palmertree attorney Frank Vollor argued he needed time for evidence discovery, to which Thomas agreed and the two sides have eyed the first two weeks in January 2015 to restart arguments in the case, which went to mediation this past January after an initial round of arguments in December. The talks broke down over how much exposure CNA Surety, which had bonded Palmertree, should bear in the matter. Three days of testimony in April ended with a second continuance, to October.

Supervisors vowed a vigorous effort to oppose the plea deal in the criminal case.

“The people of Warren County should be outraged at this,” Board President Bill Lauderdale said, who was approved by fellow board members to sign a letter he and Southerland plan to present to Lackey. “I guess by the next century, we can have the trial (in the civil case).”

Excessive salary and questionable subcontractor payments to her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley, over the five-year period chronicled in the civil case total $671,751.75. Interest and investigative costs push that to $1.04 million, according to Pickering’s office.

Another chunk of money, $98,794, was identified in the county’s audit for 2013 and involves fees paid to attorneys and accountants during the civil case.

The court last year had asked her to stop paying for her legal defense out of her office’s funds. It was unclear whether the state and county would amend the civil matter further to include activity in 2013.