Harris still in office after conviction

Published 11:57 pm Thursday, October 18, 2007

NATCHEZ — Although convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion, Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Burnell Harris was in his office Thursday.

Harris was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison and ordered to pay $447,068 in restitution to the state auditor’s office.

If convicted of a felony, a public official must step down from his position.

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Earlier this year, a statement from the attorney general’s office said according to a Mississippi Supreme Court case, a person cannot be removed from office until he is sentenced. Once sentenced, Harris would be removed.

In a statement Thursday, Attorney General Jim Hood said Harris would have to step down.

“The defendant’s attorney told us his client will resign when he is sentenced, but he has not yet returned our call (Wednesday),” Hood said in the statement. “If the defendant does not resign (Thursday), we will file our petition to remove him (Thursday) afternoon.”

A spokesperson from the attorney general’s office could provide no further information Thursday.

Harris’ office staff confirmed he was in the office Thursday. He did not return phone calls.

A federal judge in Natchez sentenced Harris to serve six years in jail and three years probation. Judge David Bramlette allowed Harris to report for his sentence in January to spend time with his family, a blind father and an ailing mother.

Under the law, Harris could have been sentenced to a maximum of 70 years in prison and a fine of $1.75 million.

No fine was levied because Bramlette determined Harris was not in a position to pay a fine.

Harris will be allowed to serve his sentence in Yazoo City as to be close to his Jefferson County home.