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Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Guest

July 23, 1998

MISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE
v.
JERRY W. GUEST



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Banks, Justice

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 8/14/97

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE

DISPOSITION AFFIRMED

EN BANC.

¶1. The present action concerns allegations of judicial misconduct on the part of Justice Court Judge Jerry W. Guest. After careful consideration, we follow the recommendation of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance. Accordingly, Judge Guest is suspended for ninety days without pay, fined $1,500.00, and assessed all costs of this proceeding, which total $839.65.

I.

¶2. On June 20, 1996, Orlando Thomas appeared before Jerry W. Guest, justice Court Judge of District 1, Clay County, Mississippi, on charges of driving with an expired driver's license and an expired inspection sticker. During his arrest Thomas had apparently become uncooperative and cursed at one of the officers. It was only after Thomas appeared in court, however, that he learned of an additional charge of public profanity stemming from this incident. Thomas pled guilty to the traffic charges, and was then tried and found guilty by Judge Guest of public profanity.

¶3. During the course of this trial, Thomas was uncooperative and repeatedly interrupted the officer who was testifying. In response to this conduct, Judge Guest reportedly told Thomas to "sit down, boy, and shut up." After he was found guilty, Thomas walked from the courtroom toward the exit. Shortly before he reached the exit, Thomas muttered, "fuck y'all." Thomas was immediately placed under arrest, handcuffed behind his back and brought back before the court. After refusing to answer questions, Thomas was escorted out of the courtroom by two officers. According to Judge Guest, Thomas then cursed again, and "when he said that, I come down off the stand." Thomas claims that Judge Guest called him a "black son of a bitch." Thomas stated that during the ensuing scuffle the Judge put him in a headlock and hit him several times.

¶4. Judge Guest argued that his actions were necessary to protect Ms. Gwen Collums, the court clerk. The Judge admitted, however, that it was Ms. Collums, aided by a constable, Floyd McKee, who pulled him away from the handcuffed defendant. The Judge further agreed that it is "not a Judge's job to physically restrain a defendant, no matter what he says to you." In response to the question of whether he cursed the defendant in the courtroom during the altercation, Judge Guest stated that he "[p]robably did." *fn1

¶5. On September 27, 1996, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) filed a Formal Complaint against Judge Guest. The original complaint contained three counts. Count I alleged that Judge Guest's conduct during Thomas's trial violated Canons 1, 2(A), 2(B), 3(A)(1), 3(A)(2) and 3(A)(3) of the Code of Judicial Conduct of Mississippi judges. Count II alleged irregularity with regard to the affidavits and arrest warrants connected with the subsequent contempt of court charges filed against Thomas. Count III charged that the alleged misconduct outlined in Counts I and II were a violation of Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution and constituted willful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute.

¶6. On December 24, 1996, Judge Guest filed an Answer to the Formal Complaint denying the allegations of judicial misconduct. On February 19, 1997, the matter was heard before a three-member Hearing Committee (Committee) composed of members of the Commission. At the Conclusion of this hearing, the Committee voted to dismiss Count II and made a finding that the conduct of Judge Guest alleged in that count did not violate the contempt powers of the court.

¶7. In its Findings of Fact and Recommendations, the Committee found by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Guest had used inappropriate language in the courtroom and had come down from his bench and grabbed Thomas around the head. Despite the Judge's denial that he had ever met Thomas before June 20, 1996, the Committee also found that the Judge knew Thomas from a prior confrontation relating to the Judge's private business, and that during this confrontation the Judge had called Thomas a "nigger." Based on his conduct both in and out of the courtroom, the Committee concluded that Judge Guest had violated Canons 1, 2(A), 2(B), 3(A)(1), 3(A)(2) and 3(A)(3) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Committee recommended that Judge Guest be publicly reprimanded, fined $1500.00 and assessed all costs of the proceeding.

ΒΆ8. At the meeting of the entire Commission on August 8, 1997, the Commission adopted most of the Committee's Findings of Fact and Recommendations. The Commission seemed hesitant to unqualifiedly adopt the Committee's finding, however, on whether Thomas and judge Guest knew each other from a prior confrontation. The Commission softened the Committee's language in regard to this incident, stating only that the Judge's denial of the prior incident had been "called into question" by Thomas's testimony, and that "Mr. Thomas further testified that during that confrontation, Judge Guest called Mr. Thomas a 'nigger.'" In spite of its hesitancy to make an express finding as to the prior incident, the Commission increased the recommended penalty. By a vote of six-to-one the Commission recommends to the Mississippi Supreme Court that ...


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