HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Mississippi Supreme Court has appointed a special judge to hear Hattiesburg's annexation case.
Chief Justice William Waller specially appointed Senior Status Judge Robert Lancaster to hear Hattiesburg's annexation petition filed in Forrest County. Lancaster is a retired chancery court judge, formerly working in the state's Fourteenth Chancery Court District, which serves Chickasaw, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Webster counties. He's been a member of the Mississippi Bar Association since 1974 and currently lives in Columbus.
Lancaster's appointment comes after all Tenth District Chancery Court judges recused themselves from hearing the case.
"We were expecting it," said John Scanlon, Hattiesburg's annexation attorney. "It's typical in annexation cases for local judges to recuse, particularly when a dispute exists between two governmental entities, such as Lamar County and the City of Hattiesburg and possibly the City of Petal."
Hattiesburg filed annexation petitions in both Forrest and Lamar Counties, and Scanlon said they city's still seeking to consolidate those two petitions.
"They only appointed a judge in the Forrest County case," Scanlon said. "I am hoping that there will be an appointment of a judge or the same judge in the Lamar County case within the next, you know, as soon as possible."
However, Scanlon said the appointment of the same judge to the identical cases filed in Forrest and Lamar Counties does not automatically consolidate the cases.
"It does not automatically consolidate them," he said. "However, we are hoping that that will be an indication that the cases should be consolidated in the view of the Supreme Court. We did request that the Supreme Court take into account the pending motions for consolidation and the fact that the cases are identical when making their decision on appointment."
Scanlon said Lamar County has filed oppositions to motions to consolidate in both cases.
"Lamar County's request or their opinion is that it should only be heard in Lamar County, and we agree with that," Scanlon said. "But we need to get them consolidated first."
Scanlon said there's no timeline for when the two petitions could be consolidated.