By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Facing at least one allegation of judicial misconduct, Lee County Justice Court Judge Rickey Thompson has agreed to altogether eliminate misdemeanor drug court in the county and can no longer preside over any county cases.
The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance has investigated Thompson against unknown claims for an undetermined amount of time, which included a scheduled Dec. 19 hearing that never happened.
Instead, Thompson appears to have reached an interim agreement just before the planned hearing that will continue until the state’s investigative body for judicial misconduct makes a final ruling.
Specifics to these judicial investigations remain private until after rulings. However, the Daily Journal recently learned from multiple county officials, including Thompson, details resulting from the inquiry.
Thompson confirmed Thursday that Lee County no longer operates a misdemeanor drug court, his responsibility beginning in 2009 that ended in December. Before ending, misdemeanor drug court had 60 participants.
Problems with the drug court began this fiscal year when state funding shortfalls eliminated $75,000, all state support and the court’s primary source of revenue. In October, Mississippi’s Administrative Office of Courts informed county officials of the misdemeanor drug court losing certification to function, following Thompson’s unsuccessful efforts for recertification.
Intent for misdemeanor drug court includes providing accountability and support for non-felony offenders with drug or alcohol problems. Participants take frequent drug tests, complete educational requirements, pay required fees and seek steady employment as part of the program. Successful completion results in most offending crimes expunged from the participant’s record.
In mid-December, Thompson signed orders expunging records of drug court participants who paid original criminal fines but didn’t require them to pay any existing drug court fees.
“They received the reward intended for finishing drug court but missed out on being held accountable and finishing the process to help them,” said Lee County prosecutor James Moore, who also served as misdemeanor drug court prosecutor.
Aside from drug court’s elimination, Thompson cannot preside in any case involving the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, which includes all county cases, limiting his authority as a judge to mostly cases where the Mississippi Highway Patrol issues speeding citations and disputes between individuals.
Thompson said he did not know how much this would limit his caseload or how much it would add to the other three justice court judges.
How long this arrangement will continue depends on how and when the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance issues a ruling. At least six county employees received subpoenas for the canceled hearing and were later told they’d receive notice of the next hearing. No one involved has received any information related to a new hearing.
The Mississippi Supreme Court determines sanctions for any judge determined to have committed improper behavior.
Thompson said he’s ready to put the issue behind him and hasn’t allowed it to change his mind about running for another term next year.
“I’m ready for some closure so I can move on with my life and let the citizens of Lee County know that I’m a man of integrity and didn’t do anything underhanded,” Thompson said. “In light of what I have to battle, I have to make sure the truth is out there.”