ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
Before the Court this day is a justice court judge charged by the Commission on Judicial Performance with
judicial misconduct, the forms of which include ordering a woman imprisoned for non-payment of a civil debt. Ignorance of the law is even less an excuse for a judge than for a private citizen. As this is the judge's first offense and there appears no imputation of personal profit or other improper motive, we impose a less than capital sanction. The judge shall stand publicly reprimanded and admonished in the strongest possible terms to learn the law and administer his office in strict conformance therewith.
These proceedings concern William E. (Bill) Bailey, Justice Court Judge, Place One, DeSoto County, Mississippi. Judge Bailey commenced his present term of office in January of 1988. He had previously served as Justice Court Judge from January 1980 to January 1984.
We are concerned with Judge Bailey's handling of two unrelated cases appearing on the docket of his court.
On May 9, 1988, Roland L. Temple commenced a civil action in the Justice Court of Desoto County, Mississippi, by filing a general affidavit. Temple named as defendant one Louise Brown and sought her eviction from property he owned, plus $226.47 past due rent as of May 9, 1988, and $16.08 per day thereafter. Temple paid court costs of $33.50. The case was docketed in Civil Docket Book 54, page 87/1 and assigned to the Respondent Bailey for hearing and disposition. On May 10, 1988, the Justice Court issued a summons to Brown to appear on May 16, 1988, and answer Temple's suit. Brown was served May 10, 1988, by Constable Redden.
The Summons reflects that judgment was given May 16, 1988. An abstract of judgment, signed by Respondent Bailey, reflects a judgment in favor of Temple for "Past Due Rent April until now $339.03 plus costs of $33.50" for a total of $372.53. Above these figures is written "$16.08 per day to be added after May 16th," presumably rent that would continue to accrue notwithstanding Brown's eviction. This language is circled on the abstract of judgment.
On May 31, 1988, Respondent Bailey wrote Brown on Justice Court stationary, advising that Temple had come back into court and charged Brown with removing items from the property, plus damages to the house. Respondent told Brown
she owed a grand total of $1,019.57, less earnest money of $300.00, for a balance of $719.57. Respondent instructed Brown to contact him or his clerk immediately and if she failed to do so he would issue a warrant for her arrest for contempt of court. A worksheet listing rents, court cost, locksmith, stolen items and damages, totaling $1,019.57 appears in the court file. Another worksheet, on the back of an Affidavit to Account form, shows a $608.58 balance.
On June 14, 1988, Respondent Bailey signed another abstract in this cause reflecting entry of a judgment for $908.58 in favor of Temple against Brown. That judgment consisted of $675.09 as debt, $199.99 as damages and $33.50 as costs, with $300.00 credit being given for earnest money; ...