Harper files suit against Warren County Board of Supervisors in Federal Court
Former Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Ken Harper is taking the fight to reclaim a post he once resigned from to Federal Court.
Harper, through his attorney, filed a lawsuit Friday in United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, against the Warren County Board of Supervisors seeking to be reinstated immediately as the county’s prosecuting attorney, to receive all accrued back pay and benefits, damages for the county violating his constitutional rights, reasonable costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees, and “other and further relief as this Court deems equitable and just.”
The existence of the lawsuit — although filed Friday in Federal Court — was made known to the Warren County Board of Supervisors Monday morning. Following an executive session with their attorney Blake Teller, supervisors authorized Teller to “pursue a defense against the lawsuit.”
The lawsuit is just the latest in a lengthy story involving Harper and the position he was elected to in November 2019.
In September, Harper, in a decision he admitted was “made in haste” in an interview with The Post, resigned the position. In a letter sent to supervisors on Sept. 14, Harper said “please accept this letter as my resignation as Warren County Prosecuting Attorney effective September 14, 2020 at 5:00 p.m.”
But, before the supervisors could meet to either accept or decline the resignation, Harper rescinded the resignation just three days later. Supervisors were not scheduled to meet again until the following Monday, so there was an expectation by those involved that there was no action needed as Harper had rescinded the resignation.
On Oct. 19 and again on Oct. 20, Warren County Court Judge Marcie Southerland meet with supervisors to express her concern about Harper’s continued role as prosecuting attorney given that he had resigned from the post a month earlier. Comments about the specifics of her concern were not made in public, but rather in two executive sessions with supervisors.
Following that second meeting with Southerland, supervisors moved to withhold Harper’s pay pending the results of an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on whether Harper’s resignation in September was effective as of 5 p.m. on Sept. 14, or if there was an opportunity for him to rescind it.
Also, as supervisors waited for the opinion, Southerland moved forward and appointed Lane Campbell to serve as the county’s youth court prosecutor, a position that had at one time been part of Harper’s responsibilities in his role as county prosecutor.
In December, the opinion from the Attorney’s General’s Office was received. It stated that given Harper’s resignation letter included a specific date and time for his resignation to be effective, that his resignation was effective at that date and time.
On Dec. 21, supervisors moved to set a special election to fill what was then a vacated position and opened up the process of appointing an interim prosecuting attorney. Harper was one of the four individuals interviewed by supervisors to serve as the interim prosecuting attorney.
On Jan. 18, supervisors appointed Stephen McMillin as interim prosecuting attorney, who will serve in that post at least through the special election in November. McMillin was sworn in as prosecuting attorney Monday and said he plans to run in November’s special election to fill out the remainder of Harper’s term.
McMillin was one of the candidates Harper defeated in the November 2019 general election.
According to the lawsuit filed Friday, Harper claims many of the actions taken by supervisors violated his right to due process under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Throughout the lawsuit, Harper cites a number of dates and events as “facts,” including details he claims came from the executive session meeting between Southerland and supervisors. Harper also cited that the board’s decision on Oct. 20 to withhold salary and expense payments from the county until the opinion was received was unlawful.
In the filing, Harper “prays for relief” and asks the court to order a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction “enjoining the defendant Board of Supervisors of Warren County” to rescind their Dec. 21 action of officially removing him from his office and that he be “reinstated to his lawful position as county prosecutor with all the accrued back pay and benefits, including salary, life insurance, monthly office expenses and retirement contribution.”
Southerland is not listed as one of the defendants in the lawsuit.
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