Harris headed out

Published 11:21 pm Friday, October 19, 2007

NATCHEZ — Convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion and sentenced to six years in jail, Jefferson County Circuit Clerk Burnell Harris submitted a letter of resignation Thursday.

At a specially called meeting Thursday evening, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors accepted Harris’ resignation, Supervisor Isaac Tenner said Friday.

Harris was convicted in August on multiple counts of embezzlement and tax evasion. A Mississippi Supreme Court case allows a public official convicted of a felony to continue to serve in office until sentenced, Attorney General Jim Hood said earlier this year.

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After submitting his resignation letter, Harris was permitted until 5 p.m. Friday to move out of his office, Tenner said.

U.S. District Judge David Bramlette allowed Harris to wait until January to report to serve his sentence so Harris could be with his family.

Tenner, who spoke in Harris’ favor at the sentencing Wednesday, said accepting Harris’ resignation was necessary.

“We did what we had to do based on the circumstances,” Tenner said. “We did what had to be done the legal way. It’s going to be a loss to the community and the county. We hate to see that happen. But we’ll do what we have to do.”

Harris’ forced resignation comes at an inopportune time for the county, Tenner said.

“It leaves us in a bind,” he said. “Right in the middle of (preparing for) elections, it’s hard to find somebody right off the street to run elections. I wish he could have stayed through the elections.”

The board of supervisors appointed one of Harris’ staff members to take his place until the circuit clerk-elect takes office in January.

After his conviction, Harris ran for re-election and lost the all-Democrat primary by roughly 500 votes in August.

Harris’ defense attorney Bruce Lewis said his office was looking into the possibility of an appeal but had not yet made a decision.

If Harris’ case is appealed, it will be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.