By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – A potential loophole allowing D.U.I. citations to be kicked out of justice court was addressed during a recessed supervisors’ meeting Monday morning.
The matter surfaced, as explained to supervisors by Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn, after a D.U.I. was dismissed from justice court several weeks ago when a lawyer questioned a ticket that was issued in District One and signed by the District Two Justice Court Clerk.
“When they got to court, the attorney made an issue about one clerk signing it (the ticket) outside of her court district,” McMinn explained, relaying information that had been reported to her.
Although the matter was not on Monday’s meeting agenda, it was discussed early in the meeting after Sheriff Lance Humphreys told supervisors that his department was in danger of having numerous tickets from the weekend kicked out.
“My guys worked 90 to 100 hours of overtime this weekend, wrote six D.U.I.s and made several arrests in District One,” the sheriff explained. The problem, explained by Humphreys, was the District One court clerk was on vacation and could not sign the tickets.
“State law says, if it is an arrestable offense, you have to have the affadavit sworn within 24 hours or the next business day,” Humphreys explained, adding that the weekend arrests were part of the national campaign, Over The Limit Under Arrest. The overtime funding is provided by a grant awarded to the sheriff’s department.
With the 5 p.m. deadline looming, supervisors voted Monday to juggle how the two justice court clerks were titled, appointing one as clerk of both judicial districts and the second clerk as the deputy clerk for both judicial districts. The vote was unanimous, as supervisors appointed Carol Wilbourn as clerk for both judicial districts and Doris Shaw as deputy clerk for both districts.
Prior to the Monday’s vote, Wilbourn served as clerk for District One and Shaw served as clerk for District Two.
After the vote, McMinn called the justice court to update Shaw about the vote.
“You are now the deputy clerk for the entire county,” McMinn explained to Shaw during the phone conversation.
“She said she just had a trooper walk out of the office with his tickets because she couldn’t swear to them,” McMinn told supervisors, after she got off the phone.
Interlaced in the discussion was differing opinions on how to address the issue, or if there was even a legitimate problem.
McMinn noted that County Prosecuting Attorney J.K. Ward made the initial call to inform county officials that there was a problem in the court system. Ward had recommended that each of the clerks be appointed as deputy clerks in opposite districts, a move that would also allow either court clerk to sign an affadavit in both of the districts.
“Lance, at a later date, had conversation with Judge Riley and he recommended to do something completely different. Then I talked to your board attorney, John Crow, and he said none of it was necessary,” McMinn continued.
“According to John (Crow), he said we don’t have a problem. But there is a problem if these things are being dismissed,” District One Supervisor Tommy Vaughn explained. “There is a perceived loophole, whether it is real or not,” Vaughn said, before the vote was taken.
“Let me tell you what some of your problem is. If your county prosecuting attorney let’s that stuff ride, then you got a problem. You are going to have a problem from now on,” Surrette said.
“That said, you got to go back now and try to tighten up some of these things that lawyers are going to be looking for because you got somebody that is not really excited about prosecuting,” Surrette said.
“At the same time she is the one that called me and said there was a problem,” McMinn added.
“Since 1988 it has been a big mess,” District Three Supervisor M.H. “Butch” Surrette said, referring to the county’s justice court system.
“We all agree with that,” District Two Supervisor Amos Sims added.
“From the judges to the clerks,” Surrette continued. “It is probably better right now, as far as the clerks are concerned, that it has ever been. But I am not going to go any further than that. I am not going to go to the judge’s side or the prosecutor.”
“We owe it to the sheriff’s department who gets out there all night long and puts their life in danger writing these tickets that are being dismissed. It is not fair to them,” Vaughn added.
“I agree. I am wondering if people really realize, the prosecutors, the lawyers and the judges, if they really realize the effort that is being put forth out there, or if they really care,” Surrette said.
District Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman added that the weekend enforcement by the sheriff’s department had created talk in the county.
“They have caught somebody’s kinfolks or something and now they are squalling because they got caught. But they are always wanting the law to do something. I heard it at 10 minutes after six this morning,” Tillman said.
“That is the way it always is. They want something done until you catch them,” Humphreys said.