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Harris v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

January 5, 2017

A. RANDALL HARRIS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/04/2015

         HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JEFF WEILL, SR. TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: DAVID NEIL McCARTY SAGE EGGER HARLESS.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ABBIE EASON KOONCE.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. On the morning of his client's trial, defense attorney Randall Harris tried to withdraw as counsel. When the judge declined his request, Harris told the judge he was "wrong" for doing so, and he "was not going to participate" in the trial. Harris's refusal to abide by the court's order forced a continuance. And the judge held him in direct criminal contempt.

         ¶2. "Direct criminal contempt includes words or actions before the court that tend to embarrass the court or prevent the orderly administration of justice. "[1] We find Harris's actions clearly fell within this category. Thus, we affirm the judgment finding Harris guilty of direct criminal contempt and ordering Harris to pay a $100 fine and $1, 200 for the cost of the jury venire.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         I. This Court's En Banc Order

         ¶3. In early 2015, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill, Sr., ordered the cases of more than fifty indigent criminal defendants be reassigned from Alison Kelly with the Hinds County Public Defenders Office (HCPDO) to appointed counsel. One of those cases was Cameron Travelsted's. Randall Harris was appointed to take over his defense.

         ¶4. The HCPDO sought this Court's intervention. And on May 21, 2015, we entered an En Banc Order lifting Judge Weill's blanket ban against Kelly. In re: Office of the Hinds Cty. Pub. Defender, 2015-M-00303-SCT, En Banc Order (May 21, 2015). But this Court denied the HCPDO's request to automatically reassign all fifty-five cases back to Kelly because those "cases [were] in various stages of development, and the best interest of justice may be served by leaving them as they are." Id. Instead, we permitted the HCPDO "to inform each of its previous clients in the fifty-five cases . . . that they may choose to continue with private counsel Judge Weill has appointed to represent them, or they may choose to have the HCPDO reassume their representation." Id.

         ¶5. Soon after the En Banc Order, the HCPDO met with Travelsted, who elected to stay with his appointed counsel, Harris. In June, the HCPDO informed Judge Weill about Travelsted's decision. And Harris assured Judge Weill he was prepared to go forward with Travelsted's trial set for Monday, July 13, 2015.

         II. Harris's Motion to Withdraw

         ¶6. But the Friday before trial, on July 10, Harris filed a motion to withdraw. In his motion, Harris asserted that the Hinds County Board of Supervisors (Board) would not pay for private counsel in cases in which the criminal defendant had elected to stay with appointed counsel instead of going back to the HCPDO. So if he was not permitted to withdraw, he would be put in the difficult position of having to sue the Board for payment.

         ¶7. Judge Weill heard Harris's motion Monday morning, before the trial began. Public defender Alison Kelly also was present. On July 2, she had filed a motion to appear in Travelsted's case.

         ¶8. When asked to present his motion, Harris told the court:

I am here today to ask the Court to allow me to withdraw from this case, because it's become clear to me that the board of supervisors-who pays the court-appointed attorney's fees-they have made clear that they're not going to pay me for services that I have rendered and will continue to be compelled to render in the event that you don't allow me to withdraw.

         Harris also told Judge Weill that Travelsted "has now opted to go back to the public defender's officer." And "[t]he public defender has accepted that responsibility" and "is desirous of representing him." So as Harris saw it, "by allowing [him] to withdraw, that settles the whole compensation issue with the board of supervisors."

         ¶9. Judge Weill then asked Harris about the email the HCPDO had sent the month before saying it had met with Travelsted and Harris, and that Harris would represent Travelsted at trial. Harris acknowledged he too had received that email and had been prepared at that time to go to trial on July 13. ...


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