Judge owes $313,726 for misusing community service program funds

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - "Judge Landrum hasn't done anything unlawful in this case." --Landrum attorney, Tom Fortner

State Auditor Stacey Pickering outlined in a letter released Thursday that Jones county circuit Court Judge Billy Joe Landrum mishandled Jones County Community Services Program funds for fuel, vehicle, security officer salaries, employer salaries, and private travel.

"Every expenditure was submitted to the board of supervisors," Fortner said.

"If the auditor believes that I'm gonna sit here and suggest that Judge Landrum has done anything illegal or unlawful, then he's the state auditor of la-la land."

Jones County board attorney Wayne Thompson says the board of supervisors only acted as a facilitator, approving purchases that met state law.

According to an opinion released by Attorney General Jim Hood in 2011, the circuit court may authorize the program to use funds for educational classes and travel for training purposes only.

Landrum's office also requested an attorney general opinion in 2008, asking if it would be appropriate for the program to give money to the Jones County volunteer fire department. Hood said there is no authorization for that.

Pickering's office is issuing a demand against Landrum for $313,726.73.

Landrum's attorney says the whole thing is "ironic."

"And, all of a sudden, in an election year, with a contestant, they make this allegation."

Landrum was an uncontested, sitting judge for 28 years until just recently. On November 4, he will face three others in the general elections.

"No one has ever questioned his integrity," Fortner added.

This is a news release from the State Auditor's Office

JACKSON - Circuit Judge Billy Joe Landrum of the 18th Circuit Court District has not been following state law in administering a Jones County Community Services Program for offenders coming through his court, according to the State Auditor's Office.  Landrum created the program in 1997 and has managed the account since 2005.

"The financial management by Judge Landrum does not conform to state law," State Auditor Stacy Pickering said.

Pickering's office has issued a demand against Landrum for $313,726.73.

Acting on an official complaint filed with his office, the Auditor's investigation shows $4,699.52 in fuel purchases; $82,637.77 for vehicle purchases and $197,439.50 in courtroom security officers' salaries and employer salary expenses were paid from the Community Services Program account but not associated with the program.  One or more vehicles belonging to the program were utilized for private travel.  The mileage and usage costs for the specific trips have been calculated by the Auditor to be $4,605.94.

The Jones County Community Services Program allows offenders to pay extra fines to perform public work instead of being incarcerated.  The extra funds deposited into the program made it self-sustaining.

"While the program has merit as an alternative to costly incarceration of offenders, Judge Landrum did not use accounting practices that must be followed when dealing with payments to public entities," Pickering said.  "His intentions may have been honorable but he did not follow the law."

Donations from a public entity to private individuals are prohibited by Article 4, §66 of the Mississippi Constitution.

The findings and information of this investigation will be made available to the District Attorney's Office and turned over to the Judicial Performance Commission to determine if or what additional actions may be warranted.

"I've known Judge Landrum all my life; we are both from Jones County.  However, my sworn oath of office demands that I perform the duties of State Auditor which I will always strive to do," Pickering added.