Plea hearing in Palmertree case set for Monday morning

Published 11:03 am Friday, September 26, 2014

MUG-Shelly-Ashley-Palmertree-MAINFormer Warren County circuit clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree is expected to offer up a plea Monday morning in the case that accuses her of embezzling $12,000 on two occasions two years ago, officials confirmed late Thursday.

Retired circuit judge Henry Lackey will hear arguments at 9 a.m. in Warren County Circuit Court, according to an email sent from the specially-appointed jurist to county board attorney Marcie Southerland.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors expects to meet on the end of this month’s agenda items in their third-floor boardroom, though the session is expected to recess so board members may walk down to the second floor courtroom to attend the hearing.

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A plea agreement in the works discussed openly the last time supervisors met formally involves a five-year suspended sentence and paying back the $12,000 to the county as restitution. The ousted former clerk would be considered a first-time offender for the purposes of trial.

Palmertree, 44, faces charges she inappropriately transferred the money from her office’s civil and criminal accounts to her personal account on two occasions in 2012. Attorney General Jim Hood’s office is prosecuting the case. Palmertree is represented by Jackson attorney Joe Hollomon.

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

A separate civil case initiated in March 2013 by the ousted clerk involving more than $1 million in fees collected by Palmertree’s office remains active in Hinds County Chancery Court.

At issue is whether Palmertree owes $671,751.75 in excessive salary and questionable subcontractor payments to her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley, between 2006 and 2011. Interest and investigative costs push that to $1.04 million, according to State Auditor Stacey Pickering, who countered the former clerk’s suit against him in the matter. A third party in the case is the clerk’s former bonding company, CNA Surety. The worldwide insurer has argued against liability in the matter.

Arguments in that case are expected to pick up again in January after two rounds of testimony and mediation since last December have failed to produce a judgment from Hinds County Chancellor Dewayne Thomas.

On Tuesday, attorney Frank Vollor withdrew from the civil case as Palmertree’s lead counsel, citing her inability to continue paying him.

A $98,794 chunk of money state auditors questioned in the county’s 2013 audit involved fees paid to lawyers and an accountant who testified as an expert witness during the civil case. Thomas had asked her before the first round of testimony 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 or $156,500 demanded of Palmertree that related to over-cap fees and subcontractor payments in 2012.