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Springer named to panel to hear complaint against state justice

By Staff
from staff and wire reports
Aug. 13, 2003
JACKSON Lauderdale County Chancery Court Judge Sarah Springer was one of seven judges selected Tuesday to decide whether to suspend a Mississippi Supreme Court justice charged in a judicial bribery scheme.
Secretary of State Eric Clark drew the names of Springer and others from among judges who are serving across the state.
Springer could not be reached for comment today.
Other chancery judges named to the panel included Patricia Wise, Denise Owens and Stuart Robinson, all of Hinds County; Carter Bise of Harrison County; William Willard Jr. of Coahoma County; and Hollis McGehee of Franklin County.
Wise will be disqualified because she is a member of the Commission on Judicial Performance, which recommended Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz's suspension, said Brant Brantley, the commission's executive director.
Other chancellors who may have conflicts have 30 days to file the appeal. Clark will draw new names to replace any judges who cannot serve.
Federal indictment
Biloxi attorney Paul Minor is accused in the federal indictment of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans and gifts to Diaz; the justice's former wife, Jennifer; and former Harrison County Judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield.
The federal indictment alleges a complicated, good old boy trail dating back to 1998 one of guaranteed loans and debt payoffs for three judges and beneficial treatment of a lawyer's cases in their courtrooms.
The defendants have pleaded innocent. They are scheduled for trial Oct. 6 in Jackson.
The judicial watchdog commission on July 30 asked that Diaz be barred from taking part in Supreme Court deliberations while the federal case against him is pending.
The Supreme Court has approved a leave of absence with pay for Diaz. Diaz will not participate in cases while on the leave of absence, justices said.
The Mississippi Constitution provides that, when a justice is involved in such an action, the secretary of state impanels a tribunal to decide whether a suspension is warranted.
1997 tribunal
This is the second time in state history that such steps were taken. The first time was in 1997 when a tribunal ordered a public censure for Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae for his 1995 drunk driving arrest.
There is no timetable for the tribunal to make a decision on the suspension, Brantley said.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove appointed Diaz, 43, of Biloxi, to the Supreme Court in 2000, filling a vacancy left by the death of Justice Michael Sullivan. The next year, Diaz was elected to an eight-year term.