Magistrate recommends dismissal of damage suit

By The Associated Press

HATTIESBURG — A federal magistrate has recommended the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a Petal man who was seeking damages from a Forrest County judge and prosecutor for a banishment sentence that was later overturned by a Mississippi court.

In 2007, Ronnie Mackey pleaded guilty to a drug charge. Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich sentenced him to 30 years in prison. The prison term was suspended with Helfrich imposing several conditions, one of which was that Mackey was to leave Hattiesburg within forty-eight hours and was to remain outside of a 100-mile radius of Hattiesburg for 30 years.

Mackey, for reasons unexplained in the court, remained in jail for about 50 hours after sentencing. When he was released from jail, he was already in violation of the banishment order. He was still in town six days later when he was arrested by police.

Helfrich revoked the suspension and imposed the full 30-year sentence.

During the 39 months Mackey was imprisoned, he appealed to the State Court of Appeals, which upheld Helfrich’s judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Helfrich’s ruling in June.

The Mississippi court, in a split decision, found the banishment from a “large geographical area” fails to rehabilitate criminals and could raise problems for other jurisdictions. The court also found the banishment condition lacked adequate factual basis.

Mackey sued Helfrich and District Attorney Patricia Burchell in July for lost wages and punitive damages totaling more than $84.3 million.

U.S. Magistrate Michael T. Parker, in a report filed Dec. 13, said Burchell and Helfrich enjoy judicial immunity from civil claims.

“For over one hundred years, the (U.S.) Supreme Court has recognized that judges are immune from liability in civil actions for their judicial acts,” Parker said.

He said Mackey failed to show Helfrich acted outside his capacity as a judge. Likewise, Parker said Mackey didn’t show how Burchell, an assistant prosecutor at the time, acted outside of her authority.

Parker also said Mackey’s claims against Forrest County should be dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett has not yet acted on the magistrate’s recommendation.

Mackey, who has since be released from prison, has filed a motion asking he be given until Jan. 27 to respond to Parker’s recommendations.