Meridian Star

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September 18, 2013

Former city court judge wants job back


HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — A former Hattiesburg City Court judge has filed a lawsuit asking for unspecified damages and reinstatement to her former position as a City Court judge.

The Hattiesburg American reports ( ) Vanessa Jones filed the lawsuit Sept. 6 in Forrest County Circuit Court, alleging slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.

The suit alleges the city, along with other unknown defendants, made statements to the media and general public that slandered and defamed Jones.

"Defendants allowed and perpetuated statements to the effect that the Plaintiff signed blank court documents that could be misused in some fashion or words to that effect," the suit states. " ... The words used imputed guilt or commission of some criminal offense involving moral turpitude."

The suit also argues the city set out to humiliate Jones and that she was wrongfully deprived of her position.

Jones asks for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive or other relief deemed appropriate.

According to information released by the Hattiesburg Police Department last year, an internal investigation uncovered City Court employees improperly destroying warrants and receiving rewards for dismissing tickets, fines and warrants.

One clerk was fired, and three were suspended briefly without pay and then reassigned during the restructuring of the court that followed.

Following the investigation, the court changed from a rotating, three-judge system to a full-time, single-judge system. Mayor Johnny DuPree maintained that such a switch was being examined before the investigation.

Former court clerk Sharon Mark filed a similar lawsuit, also penned by Chaze.

The city's answer to Mark's suit argued her claims were administrative in nature, that she was fired as a result of her misconduct and several other defenses.

City attorney Charles Lawrence said he had not yet seen the complaint, but that the city will fight the lawsuit.

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