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Judge Vess threatened with lawsuit during court

NATCHEZ — Just moments after Justice Court Judge Charlie Vess finished talking to two young women in his courtroom about settling disputes amicably without entering the legal system, the court clerk reportedly stepped into the room to tell the judge she was going to seek legal action against him.

Justice Court Clerk Audrey Bailey’s comments came after Vess spoke from the bench earlier Thursday morning to two Adams County supervisors — David Carter and Mike Lazarus — who were in attendance about how he felt like the court administration was not working with him to schedule contempt of court hearings.

“I was in session, and I was trying to arraign some prisoners and do some other stuff, and (Bailey) came to the door,” he said. “I was filling out the paperwork, I looked over and she told me she was not happy with my comments and that she would be seeking a lawyer and filing a slander suit against me.”

Bailey declined to comment Thursday afternoon about what she said in the courtroom.

Vess has been scheduling special days to have contempt of court hearings in an effort to collect back fines owed to the county. While the judge can schedule contempt of court hearings, he said it is the job of the clerk to notify those who need to appear.

When speaking from the bench after no one appeared for the contempt hearings, Vess said he was considering no longer scheduling them.

“I am willing to give my time, but I could be out rabbit hunting or seeing my grandchildren instead of doing a whole lot of nothing,” he said.

Vess also said that when the supervisors — to whom the justice court staff answers — instructed the clerk’s office to provide him with a list of those who owed fines, the list that was given to him had 200 names from 2009, and all of those listed had paid their fines.

“I am willing to write that off as an honest mistake,” he said. “But imagine what would have happened if I had issued warrants for all those people, the sheriff’s office took the time and the cost to arrest them, and then it turned out they had already paid their fines?”

But Vess also said he was considering asking the state auditor’s office to look at the list of names.

“This shows these people as paid, so where is the money?” he said.

Bailey said that any comments the judge made relating to her job performance were “baseless.” She also said that despite any disagreement she had with the judge she did not anticipate any problem in the operations of the court.

“I always do my job,” she said. “I have no hard feelings against anybody.”

Vess said he was willing to let the incident go if Bailey would apologize.

“Court was in session, and I could have held her in direct contempt, but I will be happy with an apology,” he said. “She has been a 17-year employee and knows that there are other methods she could have used to express her displeasure with me, but I know that sometimes people get upset.

“If she carries through with her threat to file a slander suit against me, I will meet it in court and do it the legal way.”

The judge said that based on information he has gathered from Receivable Solutions Specialists, the county’s appointed debt collection agency tasked with collecting fines, the county has approximately $3.84 million in outstanding fines owed it.

RSS collects the fines at no cost to the county. Instead, those who pay their fines also pay a processing fee to RSS.

Lazarus said that after Thursday the supervisors would have to discuss the issue.

“That is not a really good environment, and that is something that needs to be resolved for the good of the county,” he said. “We have got to move forward with getting those overdue fines collected, and we have to do this with whoever is there.”

Lazarus said that as supervisor he has never had to deal with a situation where a county employee threatened to sue an elected official.

The supervisors will meet today to discuss fire protection, but Lazarus said he expects the justice court issue will also be discussed.

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