By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times
Circuit judges Joey Loper and Clarence Morgan III have designated the Choctaw County Courthouse as the location for conducting Webster County Circuit Court proceedings
They signed an order directing the change on May 12. Copies were provided to the chancery clerk, district attorney, public defenders, the county and city prosecutors, and all other attorneys that have matters pending in the court. The Board of Supervisors received a copy Monday.
The order, which notes that the Webster County Courthouse in Walthall was destroyed by fire on Jan. 17, 2013, states:
“As of this date, construction of a new courthouse or repairs to the old courthouses have not begun. Pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated Section 19-3-43, it is the responsibility of the Webster County Board of Supervisors to provide an alternative location for court proceedings to be conducted. If the Board of Supervisors fails to do so, then the Webster County sheriff may do so.
“This court has never been officially notified of any location within Webster County that the Board of Supervisors has designated as an alternate site for court to be conducted. However, this court on occasion, has used the municipal courtroom for the city of Eupora to hold court proceedings.
“This court finds that the municipal courtroom for the city of Eupora is not suitable for conducting proceedings of this court because it is too small, it has inadequate parking inadequate judges’ chambers, it has insufficient space for sequestration of witnesses, it has no jury room or jury box, and it is impossible to keep jurors and prospective jurors from intermingling with litigants and attorneys.
“This court finds that is has the inherent authority and in fact the responsibility to ensure that court proceedings are conducted in a facility that is suitable for the administration of justice. ‘No court created by the Constitution is required to accept conditions which prevent its operating independently and effectively. Such court also has the duty under our governmental system to protect its own integrity. It likewise has the inherent authority as part of separate and co-equal branch to make such orders to ensure that independence and integrity (court case cited)’
“It is therefore ordered, that until such time as an adequate location for conducting the proceedings of this court has been provided by the Webster County Board of Supervisors, or unless order by this court, that:
“1. All the proceedings of this court including arraignments, trials, guilty pleas, grand jury proceedings and motion hearings will be conducted by the Choctaw County Courthouse located in the town of Ackerman.
“2. All jurors shall be summonsed to report to the Choctaw County Courthouse for jury service.
“3. The Webster County Board of Supervisors shall pay mileage for jurors to travel to the Choctaw County Courthouse, the same as if they were traveling to the Webster County Courthouse for jury service.
“4. The Webster County sheriff shall provide bailiffs and court security the same as if court proceedings were being conducted in Webster County and he shall provide transportation to all criminal defendants who are to appear before this court.”
“5. The clerk of this court shall deliver all necessary court files and docket books to the Choctaw County Courthouse when this court is convening there.”
Begins May 27
The county board initially designated the Justice Court courtroom in the County Office Building as the site for Circuit Court on Jan. 18, 2013. After Circuit Clerk Deborah Hood Neal met with supervisors on April 30, 2013, they designated the municipal courtroom at Eupora City Hall (in the Community Center) as the alternative site for Webster County Circuit Court.
Circuit Court proceedings were held in Ackerman one day last year. Deputy Clerk Sherry Henderson confirmed that the recall grand jury convened Tuesday in Eupora’s municipal courtroom; no circuit judge had to participate.
However, she said the switch to Ackerman for circuit court proceedings will begin next Tuesday, May 27, when docket settings and arraignments will be conducted at the Choctaw County Courthouse.
The next term of Webster County Circuit Court begins June 17, when a new grand jury will be empaneled in Ackerman. This is a Tuesday instead of the normal start date on the third Monday in June. The next grand jury will be recalled Dec. 9.