Palmertree wants county, insurer to pay for defense

Published 6:24 pm Saturday, December 3, 2016

Attorneys for former Warren County Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree want Travelers Insurance, the county’s liability insurer, to pay their client’s legal fees for her defense.

Travelers wants the Board of Supervisors to pay the claim’s deductible, Board president Richard George said.

He said Travelers has agreed to a settle with Palmertree’s attorneys over their legal fees for her defense and wants the county to pay the deductible, or its portion of the settlement it would have to pay as the insured party. He does not believe the county needs to pay anything.

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“She took us to court, we didn’t sue her, and now we’re being asked to pay for her legal costs. That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The supervisors are expected to discuss whether to deny the request when they meet Monday.

Palmertree sued the county and State Auditor Stacey Pickering in March 2013 in a dispute over salary paid above the state cap for circuit and chancery clerks. She was later convicted of two counts of embezzlement for stealing money from the court’s civil and criminal fee accounts and sentenced to five years in jail.

She was released on parole Sept. 14, almost two years after she was sentenced on the first embezzlement count Sept. 29, 2014.

Her parole is being supervised in Madison County. Palmertree moved there sometime in 2013. Information she was living in another county forced the Warren County Board of Supervisors to remove her from office for violating state law requiring elected county officials to live in the county where they were elected.

Palmertree filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court in March 2013 after Pickering claimed she was paid $671,751.75 in excessive salary above the state-set cap for circuit and chancery clerks, and questionable subcontractor payments to her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley.

At one point the total was estimated at more than $1.04 million after interest and investigative fees from the State Auditor’s Office, which filed the initial claim against her.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas in April 2015 ordered Palmertree to pay more than $818,251.75 in restitution to the county.

County administrator John Smith said in October CNA Surety Co., which had Palmertree’s bond, paid $100,000, and the county has received more than $275,000 from Palmertree.

Besides uncovering the excessive salary, the auditor’s investigation also revealed Palmertree was living in a house in Canton, when investigators found an affidavit of residence for the Madison County School District signed by Palmertree and dated July 23, 2013.

The clerk wrote 114 Fairchild Cove in Canton as her permanent residence.

The probe also produced a lease-purchase agreement between the her and the residence’s owners, and two utility bills, one from Entergy for $422.35 and one from AT&T for Internet and TV service for $142.32.

On 2014, Palmertree pleaded guilty in Circuit Court to stealing $12,000 from civil and criminal fee accounts under her care as circuit clerk and was initially sentenced to five years in prison.

She pleaded guilty in March 2015 to a second embezzlement charge involving the theft of $103,736.75 meant for restitution to crime victims from an account under her care between Jan. 1, 2013, and until supervisors removed her from office May 15, 2014.

Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick sentenced her to five years to be served concurrent, or at the same time, with the 2014 sentence.

Palmertree repaid the $12,000 taken in the first count, and $20,000 in reimbursement on the second count.

Patrick ordered her to pay $1,250 a month until a balance of $67,164.64 is paid. She also had to pay the district attorney’s investigative cost of $2,586.38.

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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