HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Hattiesburg City judge, who turned in his resignation August 29, is now laying the blame for the municipal court problems in part to the very department that conducted the internal police investigation.
George Schmidt said he was resigning due to a hostile work environment created by interference with the court by the executive branch of government, which he said hinders the court to operate independently and impartially.
In a letter to Mayor Johnny DuPree dated August 29, Schmidt said the hostility increased over his four years on the bench. In the letter, obtained exclusively by WDAM-TV, Schmidt said: "There has been undue influence and interference with the operation of the court by the Hattiesburg Police Department...intentional, malicious, and slanderous statements made about judges by HPD employees, and perpetuated by other police employees."
Schmidt went on to say in his letter that state law gives judges the authority and power to make rules for the administration of the court's business, but in Hattiesburg's case, "the court clerk and the deputy court clerks are employed by the Hattiesburg Police Department and as such are responsible to the chief of police, not the municipal court judges."
As for his reasons for resigning, Schmidt said "there are employees with criminal records who are employed and allowed to serve as deputy court clerks." He goes on to say, "This creates an environment in which it is difficult to trust courtroom personnel. As a judge, I have no desire to continue in a position whereby I cannot trust clerks to provide truthful information, nor do I have the desire to continue in a position where operation of the court is hindered by micro management by persons within the executive branch of city government."
Schmidt's resignation is effective September 30, the same day DuPree will replace judges Vanessa Jones and Jolly Matthews. They will be replaced by a single municipal judge, Jerry Evans.
The court system will be moved from under the police department to the City Clerk's Office.
Chief Frazier Bolton was unavailable for comment.
It has been confirmed that one court clerk was convicted of aggravated assault in 1987. According to Lt. Jon Traxler with HPD, the application for employment with the municipal courts asks if the applicant has been convicted of a crime in the last 10 years.
THE FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER FOLLOWS:
Dear Mayor DuPree:
While it has been a great honor and privilege to serve as a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Hattiesburg, it is with great disappointment that I am tendering my resignation from the position as Municipal Court Judge for the City of Hattiesburg, effective October 1, 2012.
I am resigning due to the hostile work environment created by the interference with the Municipal Court by the executive branch of the city government, which hinders the ability of the court to operate independently and with impartiality, and runs afoul of the separation of powers doctrine in Article 1, Sections 1 and 2 of the Mississippi Constitution. The hostility has increased over the four years I have been on the bench. There has been undue influence and interference with the operation of the court by the Hattiesburg Police Department. There have been intentional, malicious, and slanderous statements made about judges by Hattiesburg Police Department employees, and those slanderous statements have been perpetuated by other police department employees.
Section 21-23-7(10) of the Mississippi Code Annotated, gives municipal judges the authority and power to make rules for the administration of the court's business. These rules may address policy and procedure to be followed by the clerk of the municipal court, consistent with Section 21-23-11 of the Mississippi Code Annotated, to insure the effective operation of the municipal court. However, in the Hattiesburg Police Department and as such, as responsible to the Chief of Police, not the municipal court judges.
We work in a court system in which courtroom personnel and judges are charged with upholding the law, yet there are individuals with criminal records who are employed and allowed to serve as deputy court clerks. This creates an environment in which it is difficult to trust courtroom personnel. As a judge, I have no desire to continue in a position whereby I cannot trust clerks to provide truthful information, nor do I have the desire to continue in a position where operation of the court is hindered by micro management by persons within the executive branch of the city government. Many of the documents signed by the judges are presented to the judges by clerks, who are sworn to uphold the laws and Constitution of the State of Mississippi. However, due to some of them having been hired and allowed to serve in the capacity as deputy municipal court clerk, after having been convicted of serious crimes, certainly calls into question the competence of those who hired them.
I am thankful for having had the opportunity to have served the great City of Hattiesburg. It is my sincere hope that these issues will be addressed and corrected, and that those who are not qualified to serve in their positions of trust, whether by incompetence or due to having criminal records, are not allowed to continue working for the city in a position of trust. It is also my desire that whomever is appointed to the position of municipal court judge in the future, will be allowed to operate his or her court independently, without interference from another branch of government.
George W. Schmidt, II