Court delays Barbour pardon hearing

By Bobby Harrison | NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Hinds Circuit Judge Tomie Green postponed until Feb. 3 a hearing to determine whether she will revoke any of the pardons granted by Gov. Haley Barbour in his final days in office.
Green had planned to hear arguments on the issue Monday, but was hit by a host of motions by attorneys entering the case in recent days on behalf of those receiving the pardons.
Attorney General Jim Hood has initiated the court action, questioning whether many of those receiving the pardons met the constitutional mandate of advertising in the newspaper for 30 days that they were seeking clemency from the governor.
During the hearing, Green expressed at least a little consternation with all of the motions, saying, “It is a simple issue whether the Constitution has been complied with. …There is a Constitution, and I am duty bound the follow it.”
On Feb. 3, Green is scheduled to hear arguments concerning whether 10 inmates who were in the custody of the Department of Corrections when Barbour granted the pardons met the constitutional mandate. Five of those 10, four convicted of murder and one of robbery, were trusties at the Governor’s Mansion and have been released. Four of those five were in court Monday. The Attorney General’s office has not been able to find the fifth, Joseph Ozment, convicted of murder and armed robbery in DeSoto County, to serve him with a subpoena to appear in court.
During a Jan. 11 hearing, Green ordered that those five appear in court on Monday and stopped the release of five who were about to be released from custody.
Barbour pardoned about 200 people total. But most already had served their sentence, and the pardons will expunge their record and allow them to vote and own a gun. In addition, Hood said the pardons will prevent people convicted of sex crimes from having to register as sex offenders.
He said it appears, based on an investigation by his office, that 25 of those pardoned by Barbour provided proper notice and 168 provided insufficient or no notice. He said his office is still checking on 10 others.
He said eventually he will amend his lawsuit to ask that the probation be revoked for those who have completed their sentence but did not provide proper notice.
Green did not appear to give much credence to an argument by an attorney representing some of the pardoned trusties that Hood should not be pursuing the case since an assistant attorney general helped the Department of Corrections prepare the newspaper notices for the trusties. Green said assistant attorneys general are assigned to each state agency.
“The AG has the authority, the responsibility and the obligation to the people of Mississippi to bring the action” if he thinks there is a constitutional violation, Green said.
An attorney representing Barbour asked to intervene in the case. Barbour has said that in the past the constitutional mandate to provide notice has not been enforced.
The courtroom was packed with media, both from in the state and from national outlets, and with families and supporters of both the victims and those receiving the pardons.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com