For those that were worried about the slow DMR news cycle….

I have it on the best authority that business will be picking up rather dramatically and I plan on being at ground zero when the muck begins to fly later today. Meantime we have Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood joining State Auditor Stacey Pickering in an incredible display of asshatitude per Paul Hampton’s recap of Judge Schloegel’s contempt order against Pickering, Hood and company.

“General Hood curiously stated it might be very embarrassing for a chancery judge to be admonished by a federal judge should the assistant U.S. attorney charge the chancellor with obstruction of justice and contempt of a grand jury subpoena,” Schloegel wrote about the phone call. “General Hood’s hypothetical regarding criminal charges against the undersigned chancellor and other remarks reinforced General Hood’s clear intent not to seek to mitigate the contempt of his client, the auditor, and furthermore, raised questions of his own role, the role of the Attorney General’s Office and the role of the defendants and their employees in the issuance of the federal grand jury subpoena and the wrongful removal of the records from state court jurisdiction.”

It gets better because Pickering, while denying public records to the Sun Herald and coming across like a fool last December at the court hearings on the related litigation stopped woefully short in his investigation into DMR wrongdoing in favor of crushing a few lower level employees that now stand accused of padding their travel by a few hundred dollars a piece. Biloxi Blues summed it up nicely in comments: Continue reading “For those that were worried about the slow DMR news cycle….”

Looking for love in all the wrong places: A DMR public records debacle update

I thought Phillip Thomas at Mississippi Litigation Review nailed one of the more recent developments in the State Auditor’s Office public records contempt hearing being heard before Judge Schloegel in Gulfport.  The point is short n’ sweet and dead on accurate:

State Auditor Stacey Pickering is asking the U.S. District Court to bail him out of a mess of his own creation.

And this gets us to today’s comprehensive update by Karen Nelson and Justin Mitchell for the Sun Herald on yesterday’s Chancery Court proceedings before Judge Schloegel that ties in with that:

Schloegel stopped the civil contempt hearing, in its second day Friday, so all parties could participate in a conference call with Hattiesburg U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett, who is assigned the federal case.

Also participating in the call were attorneys for indicted former DMR Director Bill Walker and his son, Scott Walker, and other DMR managers indicted in the federal investigation of the DMR.

During the call, Starrett said he had concerns about how it would fit into the investigation if his office found the records are public. Those concerns included the defendants’ right to a fair trial, if there are any grand jury secrets in the documents, and how disclosure might affect any other “targets” of the grand jury investigation.

Early on, when the first indications surfaced that former Assistant US Attorney Sal Perricone engaged in certain extracurricular no-no’s with respect to the massive corruption investigation then underway in Metro New Orleans, certain sage observers predicted the criminal defense attorneys would use it to the benefit of their clients and it worked out exactly that way.  I mention this because although we have a far different fact set in play here, if you take what the Sun Herald put out on the social media real time during the two days of hearings at face value, my spidey senses tell me the spectacle is helping rather than hurting the five former DMR employees charged with state crimes that resulted from the year long investigation conducted by the State Auditor’s office.  The concerns Judge Starrett expressed were not from any first hand knowledge of the contents of the records at question but from experience IMHO.

Here is the text of the minute entry from PACER on the call:

Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Keith Starrett:Telephone Conference as to William W. Walker, Scott J. Walker, Joseph C. Zeigler, Jr, Sheila Tina Shumate held on 12/6/2013 regarding Expedited Petition to Authorize Release of Records and for Direction [62]. The Court informed counsel of guidelines for their responses to the Petition. All responses are due by December 18, 2013. Participants: Jerry Rushing, John Dowdy, Harold Britain, William Kirksey, Arthur Madden, Corban Gunn, Joe Sam Owen, Tim C. Holleman, John Corlew, Henry Laird, Harold Pizzetta, Douglas Miracle, Melissa Patterson, David Huggins, Joseph Runnels, Sandra Chesnut; Court Reporter/Transcriber Fred Jeske

Next up we need to jump back a few weeks and solve a minor mystery of the Federal case against the Walkers, Joe Ziegler and Tina Shumate. Warren Kulo’s story from last month on the gang’s first court appearance for the Mississippi Press sets it up: Continue reading “Looking for love in all the wrong places: A DMR public records debacle update”

The dog ate it: Stacey Pickering reveals under oath that he has no control over his employees at the State Auditor’s Office

I’m not sure where to start on today’s performance by Stacey Pickering in the contempt hearing being held in Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel’s courtroom in Gulfport but this snippet from the latest Sun Herald update seems a logical starting point:

Pickering’s chief of investigations, David Huggins, admitted under oath at the contempt hearing Wednesday that Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy subpoenaed records from the Department of Marine Resources to avoid making them public.

Since we don’t have a transcript the above raises some serious questions and it plays into something I heard from the mean streets of Jackson.  The question is whether Huggins actively worked with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy to deprive the Mississippi public of access to their own records.  This much is clear, if we take that snippet at face value then Dowdy was complicit on some level and this goes back to what I heard. This twitter exchange explains it.

Now who is Joel Smith one might ask? (And asked I was by a reader from Central Mississippi) He is the District Attorney for Harrison, Hancock and Stone Counties and the guy in charge of the indictments of the former DMR employees charged with padding their travel by a few thousand dollars. The Federal Grand Jury subpoena of the DMR records went down in close time proximity to the state and federal indictments so this relationship is salient. Continue reading “The dog ate it: Stacey Pickering reveals under oath that he has no control over his employees at the State Auditor’s Office”