2 Adams County public defenders seek raises, back pay

Published 5:21 pm Friday, December 18, 2020

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NATCHEZ — Two Adams County court-appointed attorneys have notified county officials that they are seeking $9,600 each in back pay they say the county owes them.

The attorneys, represented by Everett T. Sanders of Everett Sanders Law Firm in Natchez, filed a notice of claim with the Adams County Chancery Clerk’s office on Dec. 15 seeking the back pay after other Adams County court-appointed attorneys got $800 per month pay raises beginning in December 2019.

The two court-appointed attorneys — Lydia Blackmon and Aisha Sanders — who did not get the raises, went before the Adams County Board of Supervisors in February questioning why other court-appointed attorneys got the $800 per month raises in December 2019 and they did not.

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Adams County Board of Supervisors Attorney Scott Slover confirmed Friday that the notice of claim had been filed in the Adams County Chancery Clerk’s Office but directed a chancery clerk’s office worker not to provide a copy to The Natchez Democrat.

Instead, the court worker gave the newspaper reporter a Freedom of Information Request form to fill out and said the request would be processed within seven days.

However, Attorney Sanders confirmed he hand-delivered the notice of claim to the chancery clerk’s office on Dec. 15 and read the claim to The Natchez Democrat but declined to provide a copy or comment further, saying the case is likely to go to court.

The claim, Attorney Sanders said, asks that both Blackmon and Aisha Sanders be compensated at $2,800 per month and that they be paid back pay in order to be equally compensated with other court-appointed attorneys.

Both Lydia Blackmon and Aisha Sanders are related to Adams County Circuit Judge Lillie B. Sanders. Aisha Sanders is Lillie B. Sanders’ daughter. Lydia Blackmon is Lillie B. Sanders’ sister. Attorney Everett Sanders is Lillie B. Sanders’ husband.

“One of the discrepancies that I would like the board to make note of is there are three black attorneys on the list and only two black women, and they stand before you today,” Aisha Sanders told supervisors during a February meeting. “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.”

Blackmon and Aisha Sanders said in February they think the board had the funds in the budget and questioned why they were not being equally compensated along with the rest of the court-appointed attorneys.

At the time of that February meeting, Slover said since the county did not have an office to manage the public defender’s payroll within the budget, the board had to budget the lawyers’ salaries pursuant to a judge’s court order.

During the meeting in February, Slover said he would talk with the other Adams County Circuit Judge Debra Blackwell and find out whether she would raise Aisha Sanders’ and Blackmon’s salaries to match the rest.

Blackwell did not immediately return calls Friday seeking comment for this story.

However, in February Blackwell said she would not order pay raises for Blackmon and Aisha Sanders because they are both relatives of Lillie B. Sanders and neither could practice under Lillie Sanders nor could they receive raises unless the raises are ordered by Blackwell herself.

Blackwell further said in February 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 in February.

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Ricky Gray did not repeated calls to him for comment and his voicemail was full.