Miss. high court orders public reprimand for Covington Co. judge

Published 6:46 pm Friday, October 27, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court has suspended Covington County Justice Court Judge John L. Sanford without pay for 30 days and ordered that he be publicly reprimanded.

The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a complaint with the Supreme Court in May.

The commission said Sanford allegedly asked a deputy sheriff not to appear in court during a hearing for a person whom the officer had charged with DUI. The officer’s absence allowed Sanford to dismiss the case, the commission found.

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According to the commission, Sanford allegedly asked Sheriff Roger Wood Speed to direct deputy Dallas Stringer to show up late for the Aug. 3, 2005, hearing for the motorist.

Stringer had arrested the motorist on charges of improper equipment and first offense driving under the influence. The charges were dismissed by Sanford, according to the commission.

The commission said Sanford admitted to some factual allegations during its investigation but denied that his actions constituted judicial misconduct.

The commission recommended only a public reprimand. The Supreme Court added the suspension.

“We can no longer condone conduct similar to that exhibited by Judge Sanford to be sanctionable by way of a public reprimand,” said Justice George C. Carlson, writing Thursday for the court. “Simply put, what Judge Sanford did in this case is serious business.

“We now find that such action on the part of Judge Sanford in attempting to subvert justice by clandestinely arranging for the arresting officer in a DUI case to ‘no show’ at the criminal prosecution of the case so that the judge can dismiss the case for failure to prosecute is the epitome of judicial misconduct exhibiting moral turpitude.”

The Supreme Court also ordered the public reprimand, which requires Sanford to report to circuit court when it next meets to have the reprimand read in open court.