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Judge: No raises for public defenders

NATCHEZ — Adams County Circuit Court Judge Debra W. Blackwell said she would not order pay raises for two public defenders in Adams County who make $800 per month less than their colleagues.

During a Tuesday meeting of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, public defense attorney’s Lydia Blackmon and Aisha Sanders told the board that all other public defenders in the county received an increase in pay from $2,000 per month to $2,800 per month via a court order from Judge Lillie B. Sanders.

However, because Blackmon and Aisha Sanders are both relatives of Lillie Sanders, neither could practice under Lillie Sanders nor could they receive raises unless the raises are ordered by Blackwell.

Blackwell said Wednesday that she was never in favor of giving pay raises to any of the public defenders and refused to sign the court order.

“I did not agree to give any of the public defenders a raise and I refused to sign an order when Judge Sanders proposed an $800 per month raise,” Blackwell said. “I don’t know of anybody in Adams County who is entitled to a 40% raise.”

Blackwell said Blackmon and Aisha Sanders only practice in front of her during her three-month term each year while other public defenders practice for six months out of the year under both judges.

“The unique situation that Mrs. Sanders and Mrs. Blackmon find themselves in is that they are limited in their practice because they can only practice in front of me. They cannot practice in front of Judge Sanders because they are related to her,” Blackwell said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Aisha Sanders told the Board of Supervisors that the salary discrepancy appeared to be discriminatory against the only two public defenders who are both female and black.

“There are three black attorneys on the list and only two black women, and they stand before you today,” Sanders said to the board. “We are the only two who did not receive a raise. I would like for you to be aware of those optics because should you not take action here we will be forced to take additional action on you all.”