Crisis at Hancock Justice Court
By Dwayne Bremer
Jan 11, 2013, 18:15
Hancock County Justice Court is facing a staffing crisis after a recent spell which has seen four employees either retire, transfer, or be terminated.
Earlier this week, the Hancock County Board of Supervisors decided not to rehire court clerk Debbie Ladner.
Ladner's exit comes on the heels of the retirement of long-time chief clerk Liz Cook-Martin, who will be leaving at the end of the month.
There are also two other spots open due to transfers and retirements, officials said.
The changes in justice court come at the same time when the state auditor's office is investigating and auditing justice court's records for the past few years.
County Attorney Ronnie Artigues said Thursday that the state auditor's office has been at justice court this week, but the investigation stems from a previous complaint against a former employee, he said.
"I cannot say a lot about the investigation, but I do know it has nothing to do with Debbie or Liz," Artigues said.
Artigues said the supervisors made the decision not to rehire Ladner and he could not comment on employee-related issues.
Unfortunately, the employee shortage comes at a time when justice court is busier than ever.
In the past year, the Mississippi Highway Patrol has added several new troopers to patrol Hancock County, Diamondhead now has its own police force; and the new Hancock County Jail reopened.
The added troopers and officers and new jail have resulted in more tickets and more criminal cases, officials said.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, justice court had seven employees, officials said.
The court clerks and support employees fall under the authority of the board of supervisors and not the county's three elected justice court judges.
Board of Supervisors Vice-President Steve Seymour said Wednesday that the board is considering hiring two more employees at justice court in addition to finding a replacement for Martin.
Meanwhile, former justice court employees who are employed elsewhere for the county have been assisting to keep court operations going, officials said.
Anyone wanting to apply for a spot at justice court can contact the justice court, located at the public safety complex on Highway 90 or apply at the WIN job center, officials said.
"We have interviewed several people for the top clerk job," Seymour said. "Hopefully, we can get some people hired by the end of the month."