County to appeal order in Sessums case favoring ex-clerk

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 15, 2014

An order from Warren County Court has revived the question of who’s supposed to pay up in a civil matter that shined a light on more peculiar accounting in the final months of Shelly Ashley-Palmertree’s time as circuit clerk.
Judge Johnny Price signed an order Oct. 31 ordering Warren County to pay the jailed ex-clerk $18,541 to cover the unpaid portion of a $36,000 settlement to Lisa Sessums in a 2013 civil suit involving the sale of firearms by her late husband, Dr. Hildon H. Sessums Jr. The money was held by the circuit clerk’s office, but, according to testimony in county court Oct. 3, went into an account meant for criminal cases and not civil cases.
Supervisors have said appealing the latest order is a no-brainer. They and former board attorney Marcie Southerland, who is still handling all matters pertaining to Shelly on behalf of the board, have said the order amounts to a refund for the ex-clerk.
“He’s overruled our move to reconsider his order to unfreeze the civil account,” board attorney Marcie Southerland said during supervisors’ Nov. 3 meeting. Civil and criminal accounts were frozen on May 19, the day the county board declared the office vacant and appointed Greg Peltz interim clerk. New accounts were started, with a zero balance.
In a hearing Oct. 3, Palmertree handed a $36,000 check over to the Varner, Parker and Sessums law firm to save herself from more jail time, and, county officials say, angle for a refund of the difference.
Price ordered the remaining $18,541 on the settlement to be paid from the civil account — with money from the county as opposed to simply unfreezing the account — to Peltz, as custodian of the circuit court registry, with all to be paid to Lisa Sessums within 30 days provided no motions to retry the case are made. That time has passed.
On Wednesday, Southerland said Price’s ruling made no sense because Board President Bill Lauderdale had yet to sign documents unfreezing the account when Price ruled. Supervisors remain confused.
“If somebody really researched their county government, they’d want to know what was going on around here,” Lauderdale said Nov. 3 before voting to appeal the order. The matter would move to circuit court once it’s filed.
Counsel for Lisa Sessums filed a motion two weeks after the hearing asking Price to order the court registry pay the entire $36,000. The firm declined to deposit the check Palmertree handed over, according to filings in the case.
Palmertree was sentenced Sept. 29 to five years in jail for embezzling $12,000 from the two holding accounts on two occasions in 2012. A civil case involving more than $1.04 million in payments above the state’s salary cap for circuit clerks and questionable amounts paid to her predecessor in office, Larry Ashley, is expected to continue in January in Hinds County Chancery Court. The amount covers activity from 2006 to 2011 and includes interest and investigative costs.
Peltz and former school board member Jan Hyland Daigre face off in a Nov. 25 runoff to finish Palmertree’s term. Daigre and Peltz finished 1-2 in Tuesday’s five-person special election. Supervisors had called the special election to ensure the office was filled for the remainder of the term.
Election officials estimate it will cost $50,000 to hold the runoff. Costs are tied to paying poll workers, contractors and preparing ballots on time.

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