By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
After three days in jail, NAACP education chairman Randle Jennings is out and agreed to comply with a court order in an ongoing lawsuit by the city of Meridian.
Jennings, 53, was allowed out of jail Thursday when he agreed to comply with an order to produce financial records so the city can collect money on a judgment against him for funds related to a failed youth program the city helped fund.
On Monday, Jennings told Lauderdale County Judge Frank Coleman that he refused to comply with the request because he did not believe he owed the city any money. In a recent interview with The Meridian Star, he said he believed he had paid what he owed and there was no more to be paid. He said that in court on Monday also and said that his former attorney had not been aware that he owed money either.
Coleman told Jennings that his former attorney had received copies of every court motion.
"Your continuous rhetoric with the newspaper about you didn't know anything and you didn't have a judgment against you, it's all a lie Mr. Jennings," Coleman said. "We need to stop playing games. All we need is for you to comply with the judgment debtor exam, which is a little bitty thing which you have turned into a big thing simply because of your defiant behavior."
Jennings' refusal to comply with the information ordered for the judgment debtor exam is what landed him in jail on Monday. By Wednesday he was ready to comply with the order.
Coleman set the next court hearing for Nov. 8, giving Jennings seven days to gather the necessary documents.
The city had given Jennings $12,000 in 2005 for an after-school youth program, but the program never got off the ground when other sponsors backed out, so the city asked for the money back, eventually filing a lawsuit for breach of contract. The city won the lawsuit and Jennings, who at the time said he had $4,800 left, was ordered to pay it back immediately. Another year went by and Judge Coleman issued a bench warrant for Jennings, who then paid the $4,800.
At that time, Coleman told the city it would have to collect the remainder of the money through the same process that it would on any other judgment.
Early last month, the city asked the court to order a judgment debtor examination to determine Jennings' assets.
That was the hearing that was to have taken place on Monday, but Jennings did not produce the necessary financial documents and was jailed for contempt.
Coleman brought another issue to the forefront during the Thursday hearing. He said he had received messages that NAACP chairman John Harris, who was in court with Jennings on Monday, but not on Thursday, had made public statements that troubled him.
"The question is: Whether or not you and your friend who appeared in court with you the other day, on Oct. 29, Mr. John Harris, conspired with one another for you to refuse to comply with the orders of the court so that you would be incarcerated so that Mr. Harris could then make announcements to the general public that through his influence and threat of an investigation by the NAACP, that he would procure your release today," Coleman asked. "Was that yours and Mr. Harris' plan at the beginning? Is that the reason why you refused to comply with the judgment debtor exam?"
Jennings answered: "No, your honor."
"Messages have been sent to me that he (Harris) had announced to several individuals that he anticipated your release either yesterday or today through his efforts and intimidation of the NAACP," Coleman said.
"I just thought you need to be aware that anybody who impugns the integrity of the judiciary and somehow indicates that a judgment was procured from this court, let alone any other court, through threat or intimidation — that's a criminal offense. If you participated in that, you may find yourself back with criminal charges, not civil charges, and be in jail."
Jennings said there was no conspiracy.
Contacted after court, Harris seemed puzzled by the judge's remarks.
"Sure I was going to try to get him out. Why wouldn't I?" Harris said. "I don't have any power to do that. They're giving me way too much credit. How can I overrule the judge's order?"
Harris said he had not made any statements to the public or the media that would have indicated he would try to intimidate the court.
"I wouldn't have done anything like that," Harris said. "I'm not going to do anything that's wrong, not even to help Mr. Jennings. I can't make anybody do anything. We just prayed and asked God to intervene."
Harris also denied that there was a plot.
"Lord I don't know anything about a conspiracy," Harris said.
Shortly before the court hearing was over on Thursday, Coleman again cautioned Jennings about the situation.
"If I ascertain that you and Mr. Harris had a little plot going so that he could say his influence procured your release, don't think that I won't avail myself of all actions of the law against both of you. I will," Coleman said. "I will not have this court nor my personal integrity impugned by some random comment made somewhere to somehow enhance their own importance. It ain't going to happen."
Coleman told him if he did not appear in court, with the records, he would be found in contempt again.
"I don't want to keep putting you in jail," Coleman said. "All they want to do is ask questions and determine what your assets are just like any other debtors examination."