County still waiting on direction from Attorney General’s office regarding Harper
For local court officials and members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, it is simply a waiting game.
Supervisors are still awaiting direction from the state Attorney General’s office on how to deal with the resignation of County Prosecutor Ken Harper. A request was filed on Oct. 22, but Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office has not yet responded in the month since and there is hope an answer would come soon after the Thanksgiving holiday.
On Oct. 20, supervisors approved a measure that would withhold payments from Harper as questions were cleared up involving his ability to serve the county as a prosecutor in county and youth courts. Questions stemmed from his mid-September resignation that he then rescinded days later before supervisors next met and could take any action.
In their move to withhold Harper’s pay, supervisors also asked County Attorney Blake Teller to seek an Attorney General’s opinion to help clear up Harper’s status.
Not only is the county seeking advice on whether a public official can rescind an immediate resignation, but there also remains a question of whether Harper should have tendered his resignation to the Board of Supervisors at all.
In their request, the county is seeking information on four separate issues related to Harper’s actions:
“In the event an elected County public official submits a written request to the Board of Supervisors asking the Board to accept his or her resignation, effective the same date as the letter, which effective date is before the next date on which the board meets; then submits a written withdrawal of the request to accept resignation a few days later but prior to the next meeting date of the Board during which the Board would presumably have taken up the proposed written resignation, (1) what is the status of the elected county public official?; (2) Is the office of such duly elected official deemed vacant, or can such duly elected official withdraw the request for acceptance of resignation even though the effective date of resignation was proposed to be the same date as the letter — being at a time before the board could possibly meet to take up the matter for consideration; (3) If the board desires, may the board opt to accept the withdrawal of resignation; and (4) Does it matter whether the written request of an elected county public official seeking acceptance of resignation is submitted to the Board of Supervisors and not the Governor?”
The county also asked what action — if any — the county should take:
“Please advise of your opinion regarding what the status of an elected county official would be having presented a written request for acceptance of resignation proposing an effective date that falls before the board could possibly meet, and then withdrawing such request for acceptance of resignation prior to any meeting date. Also, advise whether the board would have the option of accepting the withdrawal of resignation, and whether there is any significance to a scenario where the request for acceptance of resignation was submitted to the board of supervisors and not the Governor.”
After the board took its action on Oct. 20, Harper did serve as county prosecutor in county court for a few more days, but Warren County Judge Marcie Southerland did not allow Harper to handle any youth court cases. On Oct. 23, Southerland, who said she was concerned about Harper’s status, appointed Vicksburg attorney Lane Campbell as Youth Court Prosecutor.
In appointing Campbell, Southerland, who does have statutory authority to appoint a youth court prosecutor, said Harper “is hereby relieved of serving as youth court prosecutor effective immediately.”
In the order, Southerland alluded to Harper’s questionable status as a reason for appointing Campbell.
“This undersigned County Court Judge who also serves as the youth court judge finds that the Warren County Youth Court requires a youth court prosecutor who is available, without interruption, to faithfully discharge the duties and responsibilities of the Youth Court Prosecutor,” the order reads. “This Court finds that in the interest of the administration of justice and in the best interest of children and their families who are served by the Youth Court, it is necessary to appoint a youth court prosecutor to serve in lieu of the county prosecutor.
“Youth court matters are critical. The responsibilities of youth court are ongoing. Youth court never stops. It’s a 24-7 job,” Southerland said in the release. “There has to be a prosecutor available at all times to handle those cases. You can’t wait for a determination of whether Mr. Harper has vacated his position.”
The order also outlines Campbell’s salary as $4,100 per month, with “all benefits provided to county employees.”
Unlike Harper, who served full time in the position, Campbell will serve part-time and can continue his private law practice.
Southerland said Campbell will serve as youth court prosecutor “until further order of this Court.”
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