Black Judge Says Mississippi|Barred Him Because of His Race

     JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – “Influential white persons” in Mississippi got a judge removed from office and barred from re-election after he cleared a black defendant in a misdemeanor case, the former judge claims in court.
     Rickey Thompson, former Lee County Justice Court judge, sued the Mississippi Attorney General, the Lee County Democratic Party Executive Committee, and the Lee County Election Commission, on Aug. 21 in Federal Court. Rencie Fells, a black voter, joined as co-plaintiff.
     Lee County, in northeast Mississippi, was 59 percent white and 37 percent black according to the 2010 Census. Its seat is Tupelo.
     Thompson claims that prominent white people sought to remove him from the bench ever since he took office in 2004 “as the first black person elected Justice Court judge in Lee County.”
     Throughout his judgeship, Thompson said, he “has suffered from intentional racial harassment from influential white persons who do not want a black person, who will make independent judicial decisions, rather than accept directions from white sheriff’s deputies and white justice court clerks as to the proper judicial ruling.”
     “The race-based harassment became worse after June 2009, when plaintiff Thompson found a black criminal defendant, accused of a misdemeanor by white sheriff’s deputies, to be not guilty. Following this finding of not guilty, the sheriff, who is white, criticized plaintiff Thompson’s decision and directed that in the future no further criminal defendants would be brought before plaintiff Thompson. This infringed upon the rights of all citizens of Lee County to a fair and impartial trial and practically assured that all black criminal defendants would be found guilty in Justice Court.”
     Thompson claims that sheriff’s deputies refused to serve warrants he issued, gathered “en masse to intimidate plaintiff Thompson while plaintiff Thompson was holding a contempt hearing with respect to a white deputy,” and filed “repeated complaints to the Mississippi Judicial Performance Commission about plaintiff Thompson’s handling of judicial matters.”
     Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson and his office did not respond to a request for comment.
     Thompson claims that after numerous “influential white persons” filed charges with the commission, it recommended his removal from the bench.
     Thompson took office in 2004 and was re-elected in 2007. He was renominated on Aug. 11 this year, winning 55 percent of the vote in a five-person Democratic primary, as he appealed the commission’s recommendation to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
     Two days after the primary, the Mississippi Supreme Court removed him from office.
     Thompson says the Mississippi attorney general instructed the Lee County Election Commission and Democratic Party not to list him on the ballot “even though plaintiff Thompson meets all of the qualifications to run and hold office.”
     Under Mississippi law, the local Democratic Party executive committee is charged with naming a replacement nominee.
     Lee County Democratic Party committee members are to meet Sept. 1 to announce a replacement candidate.
     Thompson claims that he eligible to remain on the general election ballot, as winner of the Democratic primary.
     He seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction ordering that his name be put on the general election ballot, and damages for civil rights violations.
     The attorney general’s office said it does not comment on pending legislation.
     Thompson is represented by Jim Waide of Tupelo.
     Mississippi Justice Courts have jurisdiction over small claims civil cases involving amounts of $3,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and traffic offenses outside a municipality, according to the state courts Web page.
     Justice Court judges also conduct bond hearings and preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases and can issue search warrants.
     There are 82 Justice Courts with 197 judges. Justice Court judges are the only Mississippi judges elected in partisan races. They serve four-year terms.

%d bloggers like this: