Judge has ‘no plans’ to appeal reprimand
By Geoff Belcher
Feb 15, 2013, 17:23
Hancock County Justice Court Judge Tommy Carver said Friday that he "has no plans" to appeal the Mississippi Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to publicly reprimand him.
"I don't necessarily agree with it, but I'm going to abide by it," Carver said.
A state commission determined in June 2012 that Carver had acted improperly by dismissing five citations and recommended that he be suspended and fined.
The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, a state agency that is charged with investigating ethics complaints against judges, found Carver did not follow protocol when he allegedly dismissed five citations during an informal conversation with the defendant.
In a filing with the Mississippi Supreme Court, the commission recommended that Carver be suspended and pay $2,022 in fines.
According to the commission's court filing, on December 23, 2010, Officers John Grimsley and Bryce Gex of the Department of Marine Resources wrote five citations to Steven Kent Roche for oyster fishing violations. Roche was set to pay the fines or contest them in court by March 22, 2011.
Some time before the March 22 court deadline, Roche allegedly went to Carver's home with his brother-in-law Frank B. Klein. The three men reportedly had an "ex parte" conversation and Carver allegedly failed to tell Grimsley, Gex or county prosecutor Olen Anderson about the conversation, according to the commission's report.
A trial date was set for May 10, 2011. Grimsley and Gex were present at the court, but did not see Roche. All of the cases on the docket were called, and Gex looked at Anderson's copy of the docket. Next to Roche's name was written "NS" for no show and Carver explained to Gex that since Roche was related to a former judge, the case would be reset for July 12, 2011.
At the July court date, the officers learned that the five citations were all dismissed without a hearing or the knowledge of Anderson, according to the report.
The committee's findings concluded that Carver: Failed to properly adjudicate matters assigned to him; engaged in ticket fixing; dismissed criminal charges against Roche without a hearing and without the presence of or knowledge of Anderson, Grimsley and Gex; engaged in improper ex parte conversation; failed to disclose that conversation to Anderson, Grimsley and Gex; and falsified court records by noting that the officers weren't in court when they actually were.
In his response, Carver claims that the complaint should be dismissed entirely.
Carver's reply states that there is no evidence that his actions constituted "willful misconduct." Carver claims that the conversation at his house consisted of small talk, the location of the courthouse and the trial date.
Carver also claims that on the May 10 trial date, Roche was present and pleaded not guilty and the charges were dismissed because the officers were not present.
Carver's response also claims that Roche is a "simple and unsophisticated person with hearing and possibly learning problems," therefore he may not have heard his name or responded when originally called in court.
In Carver's response, he also stated that the proposed punishment is too harsh since he has had 12 years of service without any allegations of misconduct.
In the state Supreme Court decision issued on Thursday, a majority of the justices found that Carver had "violated canons ... of the Code of Judicial Conduct and that his actions constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justices which brings the judicial office into disrepute."
However, the dissenting justices opined that "The discrepancies in the testimony pointed out by the majority fall woefully short of providing clear and convincing evidence that Roche asked Judge Carver to 'fix' the tickets. To the contrary, such minor discrepancies are precisely what one would expect from three witnesses to an under-ten-minute, casual conversation that occurred more than a year before the committee hearing.
"Further, the evidence surrounding the dismissal of the tickets amounted to nothing more than a swearing match between Judge Carver and Officers Grimsley and Gex. ... No one corroborated the officers' version of events.
The dissenting opinion also states that "The majority strains reason by finding that evidentiary conflicts materially discredited Judge Carver's testimony" and that there is no "'clear, direct and weighty and convincing' evidence that ... Judge Carver engaged in ticket-fixing."
After more than 12 years as a justice court judge and as many as 100 cases per month, the dissenting opinion says, there has been "no indication of wrongdoing on his part until this single incident."
The majority opinion states that Carver "Shall be publicly reprimanded in open court by the presiding judge of the Hancock County Circuit Court on the first day of the next term of that court in which a jury is present."
That date has not yet been set.
In addition, Carver must pay assessed costs of $2,022.