Archive for August, 2014

Jones Judge Race: Landrum kicks-off; Rogers bows out; Parrish resigns as ADA

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

UPDATE: Today, State Auditor Stacey Pickering issued a demand for $313,726.73 against Judge Billy Joe Landrum for failing to follow state law in administering his Jones County Community Services Program. Pickering’s press release said, “The findings and information of this investigation will be made available to the District Attorney’s Office and turned over to the Judicial Performance Commission to determine if or what additional actions may be warranted.” Read the full release here: Demand Issued Against Jones County Judge

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My column this week looked at the campaign finance reports of chancery/circuit judge candidates filed in July for the November election. While I didn’t have space to highlight the race for circuit judge in Jones County, it is one to watch.

On Tuesday, WDAM reported 28-year incumbent Billy Joe Landrum kicked off his campaign. But on July 15, Landrum filed a termination report with the Secretary of State showing he would no longer raise or spend any money on his campaign and that he had zero dollars cash-on-hand. He had previously reported raising $15,5000 and spending most of it.

Landrum currently is under investigation by the State Auditor’s Office. From my column earlier this year:

Landrum has confirmed the Auditor’s investigation to the press and claims it involves a community service program he initiated which requires participants (in jail or on probation) to do community service and pay a $50-a-month supervision fee which Landrum uses to buy equipment. Landrum has admitted to keeping the equipment at his personal farm and on one occasion using one of the trucks purchased through the program to travel to Orange Beach, Alabama. Landrum calls the investigation “a political witch hunt” and says he has offered to repay the mileage from the trip.

While mercy is part of justice, seeking leniency is not the reputation that Landrum has campaigned on in the past, including his 2000 campaign for Mississippi Supreme Court in which he failed to make the run-off with opponents Oliver Diaz (the incumbent) and Keith Starrett (now a federal judge). In that campaign, Landrum was largely funded by lawyer campaign contributions (around $100,000). Since then, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) has criticized Landrum’s judicial “shenanigans” and his court where “flimsy silica cases reportedly still find a welcoming home.” In 2013, ATRA put Jones County on its “Judicial Hellholes Watch List” based on Landrum’s rulings in civil litigation cases.

Polling from earlier this year, before Landrum had opponents, showed the incumbent is well known in his district, but more voters would support a candidate less plaintiff friendly than those who would support Landrum for reelection.

One of his opponents, Noel Rogers, dropped out of the race this week telling WDAM, “After much prayer and thought, I just feel like this isn’t the right time. I feel like I need to wait another four years.”

WDAM reports another opponent, J. Ronald Parrish, resigned his position as assistant district attorney this week to campaign full time. Parrish made headlines with his prosecution of Dr. Malachy DeHenre. DeHenre performed abortions in Alabama and Mississippi but had his license suspended in both states due to health injuries to the mothers including death. Parrish prosecuted DeHenre for shooting and killing his wife and called him a “despicable nasty person” and said no case he handled “gives me as much gratification as this one.”

Landrum has two more opponents:

Grant Hedgepeth of Ellisville is a plaintiffs’ attorney focusing on auto accidents, criminal defense and mesothelioma and asbestos cases. He served one term as District Attorney for Jones County after defeating the then incumbent DA in the 1999 Democratic Primary by fewer than 400 votes; Hedgepeth was unopposed in the general election. He then lost in the 2003 Democratic Primary by nearly 1700 votes to the current DA, Tony Buckley (who became a Republican in 2011). Hedgepeth also served as an assistant attorney general under Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

Dal Williamson, a former Jones County Bar Association President in the race, and a past president of the Jones county Cattlemen Association. He is a partner at Williamson & Thompson which handles family law, personal injury cases and real estate services. He is a former law partner with retired U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Charles Pickering, Sr.

As of the July reports, Landrum had raised $15,500; Hedgepeth raised $12,000; Williamson raised $8582; and Parrish had not raised any yet.

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