Judge sanctions tax collector, city

By By Suzanne Monk/The Meridian Star
Aug. 3, 2001
Judge Larry Roberts called off a civil trial scheduled to begin today in Lauderdale County Circuit Court after one of the litigants, Tax Collector Stanley Shannon, spoke to potential jurors Thursday as they exited the courtroom.
The 77 potential jurors had just been "qualified" and sworn in. If all had gone as scheduled today, the trial jury would have been chosen from this group.
Instead, Roberts sanctioned both Shannon and the city of Meridian and ordered them to pay a fine of about $2,000 $25 a day for each juror and reimbursement for their mileage.
What the lawsuit is all about
The case, Fiddle Inc. vs. Stanley Shannon and the city of Meridian, began in August 1997 with a delinquent tax sale.
Anita Jo Ross, co-owner of Fiddle Inc., bid on a total of 113 properties. One of them was a parcel on 33rd Avenue between Fifth and Railroad streets owned by Willie Lee Gordon. Ross wrote one check for back taxes on all the parcels she bid on that day.
Three years later, Gordon failed to reclaim the property and Anita Jo Ross and her husband, Bill, became the new owners. It was at that point, Anita Jo Ross said, she noticed a $9,542 "special assessment" against the property an assessment she paid three years earlier.
Shannon said the special assessment was for city demolition of a building on the parcel.
The couple asked Shannon for a refund, explaining that a clerical error had been made. Anita Jo Ross said the auctioneer had failed to note the assessment, and that she would never have bid on a property with a large assessment against it. She said she failed to notice the error three years earlier. The reimbursement request was forwarded to city officials, who denied it.
After several unsuccessful conversations with city officials, the couple filed a lawsuit against Shannon and the city asking for $10,246 the original assessment plus interest and fees.
What Stanley Shannon says
Shannon said Thursday that he did not mean to do anything improper. He came in contact with the potential jurors as they exited the second floor courtroom. Shannon said he was on the second floor getting a cup of coffee and chatting with other courthouse employees.
Shannon said he spoke to only three or four potential jurors with whom he is personally acquainted. He said he may have waved at others as he passed by. Attorneys with the law firm Bourdeaux and Jones, representing Shannon and the city, asked Roberts not to disqualify the entire panel. The judge denied the request.
Shannon said he'd have stayed home if he knew this was going to happen.
What Bill and Anita Jo Ross say
Bill and Anita Jo Ross say the situation is "ridiculous."
Bill Ross agreed.
No new trial date has been set.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at smonk@themeridianstar.com.
How tax sales work:
If property taxes on a parcel remain unpaid, the tax collector is authorized to auction it for the delinquent amount. The successful bidder pays for the parcel. The original owner has three years to pay the back taxes and reclaim his property. If he does, the bidder's money is refunded with interest. If he doesn't, the bidder receives a tax deed to the property.