Last week Harrison County Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel ruled that State Auditor Stacey Pickering and his office were in contempt of court for improperly withholding public records from the Sun Herald. Here is the Sun Herald article on the latest ruling in the case.
In addition to the contempt ruling:
Judge Jennifer Schloegel also ordered Pickering, his office and the state Department of Marine Resources to pay the more than $36,000 in attorney fees the newspaper incurred in its 19-month battle to see the documents related to its investigation of possible wrongdoing at the DMR in Biloxi.
Schloegel also fined Pickering, Attorney General Jim Hood and auditor investigator David Huggins, audit special agent Chris Lott and assistant attorneys General Melissa Patterson, Joseph Runnels, Sandra Chesnutt and Harold Pizzetta $100 each for their roles in the “willful and wrongful denial” of the public-records request by the paper.
Pickering and his office come out looking bad:
“This conduct rises to the level of abuse of the grand jury process and warrants actions against the auditor.”
Pickering’s office seized the records Jan. 15, 2013, and moved them into another room of the Bolton Building in Biloxi, which the auditor’s office shares with the DMR and other state agencies.
As does General Hood:
“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.”
Things fell apart for Hood and Pickering when U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett also ordered the release of the DMR records.
Normally people like to see Democrats and Republicans working together. But bipartisan stupidity is not what we had in mind.