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Notes from a new term of circuit court

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
August 3, 2003
A Lauderdale County grand jury concluded its business on Friday examining 58 witnesses, issuing 345 indictments and declining to indict in 24 cases. The circuit court staff will be processing these indictments for a couple of weeks.
The complete list will not enter the public record until after arraignment day on Aug. 22. Sandwiched in among the dozens and dozens of drug-related indictments, I'm expecting to see at least one for capital murder.
The Meridian Star will publish the list as soon as possible, broken down into these broad categories: violent crimes, property crimes and drug-related crimes.
The 18-member grand jury also inspected county-owned buildings and issued a report making the same recommendations grand juries have been making for years: 1) Improve the electronic monitoring system at the jail; 2) Allow the district attorney's office to use vacant space on the third floor of the courthouse for the Worthless Check Unit; and 3) Do something about the juvenile detention facility.
Grand jury recommendations have become so routine that I could tell you what they say without reading them. And, nothing ever changes even when a recent grand jury remarked that the juvenile "jail" looks and smells like a kennel.
Why is that?
Quick takes
Breach of contract: A Lauderdale County trial jury handed down a $130,000 judgment Thursday against Benchmark Health Care. Unlike more recent civil lawsuits against the nursing home, alleging sub-standard care, this 1998 lawsuit involved a contract dispute with a company providing physical therapy to Medicare patients.
It was more bad news for former owner Guy Howard. In mid-July, Benchmark reached a confidential settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit and there are seven more lawsuits against the Marion nursing home still in the queue.
Whittling us down: Parking is almost impossible when a grand jury is in session. And, if you work in downtown Meridian, you may have noticed that you're getting a lot more parking tickets now than you were a couple of months ago. That's because a recently retired meter maid with the Meridian Police Department isn't retired anymore.
She's a perfectly lovely lady, and she does her job well, and it drives me crazy. Unless you're one of the fortunate few, the kind with their names on their parking spots, it is almost impossible to avoid tickets.
Roofing woes: Sometimes, people visit me when they have a problem and they've run out of anything else to do about it. A lady came to see me this week because she paid a roofer for a job he didn't do. It ended up costing her a lot of money. She was embarrassed about how naive she had been and wanted to warn people to check out contractors before they're hired.
The roofer in question has not been indicted in connection with the job at her house but he was indicted four times in November in similar cases. He made a court appearance this week, but no trial date has been set.
Consider yourselves warned.
Politicking: Attorney General Mike Moore issued an opinion in late July that makes it illegal for candidates to campaign inside courthouses.
It's based on the same law that says they can't campaign within 150 feet of a polling place. The rationale is that absentee voters cast ballots, usually in the circuit clerk's office, in the 45 days before an election and they "are entitled to the same protection from such activities as those voters who go to their regular polling places on election day."
This mostly affects incumbents who work in the courthouse itself. It means no glad-handing, no campaign cards, no imprinted fingernail files and key chains before the primary elections on Tuesday.
Stray thought: The federal indictment against Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. accuses him of favoring Gulf Coast attorney Paul Minor's clients.
Before a jury gets hold of the case, if a jury gets hold of it, who will review Diaz's decisions and voting record for judicial bias? Who will be offered as an expert witness in a possible trial?
Not, I wouldn't think, his colleagues on the Mississippi Supreme Court. A panel of law professors? The U.S. Department of Justice is one of the prosecuting bodies does that mean U.S. District Court judges from Jackson will be asked to take a look?