Watchdog Acts Against Adams County Judge for 9th Time

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A judicial watchdog agency is faulting an Adams County justice court judge for the ninth time.

The Mississippi Commission Judicial Performance recommended Tuesday that the state Supreme Court publicly reprimand Judge Charles L. Vess, suspend him without pay for a month and fine him $1,100. Vess would lose $2,200 in salary during the suspension.

Darlene Ballard, the commission's executive director, said it would likely be eight to 10 months before the Supreme Court ruled on the commission's recommendation.

The commission said Vess told defendant Michael Thomas that "he may have to use a gun on Thomas" because Vess felt threatened when the man kept his hands in his pockets during a hearing earlier this year that led to a misdemeanor assault charge being set aside.

Vess told The Associated Press Tuesday by telephone that he worries about guns in court: "I told him 'If you pull out anything besides four fingers and a thumb, I might have to pull out my own gun and shoot you.'"

The commission also said Vess made "disparaging" remarks about Thomas' drug use to the man's mother, criticized her parenting skills, asked "other demeaning questions" and made "other demeaning comments and accusations.

Vess said he "went off a little" against Thomas and his mother, saying in part that sometimes he seeks to make an impression on young people to steer them away from criminal activity.

"If you can help a kid out to see the right way, even if you have to talk a little salty to him, it only helps the community."

Ballard said it's the ninth time since 1992 that the commission has faulted Vess. In four cases, it sent Vess "instructive letters" cautioning him about his behavior. In five instances including this one, the commission has recommended sanctions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has three times previously upheld sanctions against Vess, including for serving as a municipal judge without being a lawyer, and improperly communicating with parties in a case without the other side or lawyers present.

Like many justice court judges, Vess is not a lawyer, although he said he's pushed for higher educational standards for the judges, who hear cases involving misdemeanor and traffic offenses, civil disputes involving less than $3,500 and initial hearings in felony cases. Vess, elected seven times, said he doesn't plan to seek re-election in 2019.

Vess said he now agrees that he went too far in Thomas' case.

"I think it should be a reminder to other judges to keep their composure," he said.


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