Mississippi Judge Immune from Libel Lawsuit

JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – A Mississippi judge sued by his former court administrator for defamation and harassment is entitled to judicial immunity, the state’s highest court ruled.

Karla Watkins Bailey claimed in a 2015 lawsuit that Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill made libelous statements about her in the footnotes of four court orders. That year, a judge refused to dismiss the case.

Bailey worked as Weill’s court administrator from January 2011 until her resignation in November 2012. During that time, she claimed the judge “engaged in a pattern of abusive language and disrespectful actions against her.”

The alleged libelous language in Weill’s orders said the judge had reprimanded Bailey for engaging in improper ex parte communications while she was his court administrator, and that she used her current position as deputy clerk to add a certain public defender as counsel of record in criminal cases, according to court records.

She claimed she suffered physical injuries, emotional injuries and loss of reputation as a result of Weill’s actions.

On Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that judicial immunity exists in the case since Weill cannot be held liable in a civil action for his judicial act. They rejected Bailey’s argument that the judge is not entitled to immunity because he had no judicial authority over her when he entered the orders.

“The Court has held that judges of courts of general jurisdiction are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly,” Justice Josiah D. Coleman wrote for the court. “Here, Judge Weill entered the February 2015 orders disposing of the public defender’s motions to recuse and for clarification in four criminal matters that were properly before him.

Justice Coleman continued, “Even though Bailey alleged that the language contained in the orders contained libelous language, Judge Weill is afforded judicial immunity from Bailey’s civil action because at the time he entered the February 2015 orders, he had jurisdiction over the subject matter before him.”

The unanimous ruling reverses the lower court’s denial of Weill’s motion to dismiss the case. One justice did not participate in the opinion.

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