About a week ago Stacey Cato had a story for the Sea Coast Echo detailing a Federal lawsuit against Hancock County Justice Court Judge Jay Lagasse that I though was one for the ages. It has a little bit of everything from a nasty divorce involving a relative of Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson, who attempted to ear wig Chancellor Carter Bice on behalf of the young lady and allegations of sexual misconduct involving former Gulfport City Prosecutor Richard Smith and the Sheriff’s niece. Stacey’s story has people talking and for good reason as the allegations are salacious and the Plaintiff claims to have some pictures involving the former Gulfport City prosecutor and the young lady.
Hancock County judge named in federal lawsuit ~ Stacey Cato
A Hancock County Justice Court judge is one of nearly a dozen public officials in two coastal counties who were recently named in a federal lawsuit which claims each played a crucial role in violating a Gulf Coast businessman’s civil rights.
The suit, filed in Gulfport, alleges corruption, collusion, and conspiracy among city, county and court officials in both Hancock and Harrison counties, as well as ethics violations by the prosecution and unauthorized practice of law.
The whole story is well worth a read, especially the part where Plaintiff Wooten details pictures he has of City prosecutors carrying on with the Plaintiff’s estranged wife.
I had to see the cases for myself so I did some digging on PACER and MEC to get the skinny. Normally when I see a Civil Rights lawsuit naming over 10 public officials my dubiety meter goes off the charts and that was the case with reading Wooten’s Federal Court complaint. But then I got to the allegations against Sheriff Peterson earwigging Chancellor Carter Bice and the fact that the state court divorce case record is largely sealed. Luckily a friend stopped by to help us out and I can verify that Stacey quoted Bice’s letter to Sheriff Peterson very accurately. Here is a snippet:
In a letter addressed to Peterson from Chancery Court Judge Carter Bice on Jan. 8, 2019, it says, “Judges are forbidden from engaging in ex parte, or in private communications, with parties or potential witnesses regarding a pending or impending proceeding.” It goes on to say, ”These rules are designed to keep legal proceedings fair and neutral…….” Bice further explains, “These rules prohibited me from discussing the merits of your niece’s case with you.”
Judges have very broad immunity from such lawsuits so it is unclear what exposures Justice Court Judge Lagasse has here but it is equally clear Mr. Wooten feels aggrieved and is willing to haul the entire crew into Court, including a few public officials like Gulfport Police Chief Len Papania that is not alleged to have done much of anything. Several Motions to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)6 have already been filed in the Federal Court matter so we’ll know soon enough if the case proceeds past the preliminary stages.
Finally, Stacey deserves props for telling a hard to report story well. I’m glad to see it appear on the Echo’s website after running in last Wednesday’s paper.