Miss. high court suspends, reprimands Hinds judge

Published 7:00 pm Friday, August 25, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered Hinds County Justice Court Judge Ivory E. Britton suspended for 30 days without pay for alleged misconduct.

The court, acting on a petition from the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, also ordered that Britton be publicly reprimanded at the opening of the next term of Hinds County Circuit Court.

The commission had alleged in its 2005 complaint that Britton engaged in improper communication on behalf of one party without notifying the other in two different civil cases.

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In two separate cases against Vintage Apartments in Hinds County, the commission alleged Britton acted inappropriately by overturning final judgments and rescheduling court dates without notifying the parties in each case.

Had Britton notified parties of his actions and required written requests for the overturned judgments and rescheduled court dates, he would not have violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, the commission said.

Presiding Justice Kay Cobb, writing Thursday for the court, said Britton’s actions violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. Cobb said Britton’s only claim was that he was not aware that his actions were inappropriate.

“A claim of ignorance of the duties of the office of judge, as a defense to judicial misconduct, is tantamount to an admission by the accused judge that he does not possess the qualifications necessary to be a judge,” Cobb wrote.

Cobb said justice court judges are not required to be lawyers. She said they must have a high school or a general equivalency diploma.

“This undoubtedly places a justice court judge at a disadvantage,” Cobb said “However, by assuming the office of justice court judge, the judge accepts the responsibility of becoming learned in the law.

“We conclude that Judge Britton not only was negligent by virtue of his claimed ignorance of the law, but he also engaged in willful misconduct.”

Justice James E. Graves said while he agreed Britton’s actions were misconduct, the penalty was too harsh. He said a private reprimand would have been enough. Graves said other judges with similar complaints were punished less severely.

“To coddle one judge and castigate the other for almost identical conduct is grossly disparate treatment,” Graves wrote. “Equity, fairness and justice are not served, but instead are undermined and ignored by the majority’s decision in this case.”