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Pickering accuses circuit clerk of court shopping

VICKSBURG — Third-term Warren County Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree is court shopping in two counties and should pay the state’s legal fees in a dispute over her salary and subcontractor payments, Mississippi Auditor Stacey Pickering says.

The Vicksburg Post reports an assistant attorney general filed papers in Hinds County Chancery Court, on behalf of Pickering.

Ashley-Palmertree and her attorneys “have continually ‘shopped’ from Warren County Circuit Court to the Hinds County Chancery Court,” Special Assistant Attorney General Melissa C. Patterson says in the 15-page document. It asks that the clerk pay the state’s legal fees for having to defend itself in circuit court. It also asks Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas to lift an injunction that said Warren County erred in March when supervisors agreed to hold back Ashley-Palmertree’s salary.

In March, Ashley-Palmertree sued Warren County and Pickering in Hinds Chancery Court, seeking relief from demands that she repay $661,752 to cover what auditors say are payments from 2006 to 2011 exceeding the $90,000 salary cap for circuit clerks, and improper subcontractor fees paid to her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley.

Pickering and Warren County have countersued, arguing the noted debts must be repaid. Issues with accounting procedures in the clerk’s office have been noted on state audits dating back a decade. Ashley-Palmertree also faces criminal counts in a file handed over to and expected to be handled by the attorney general’s office. Details have yet to surface.

Trial dates in Thomas’ court are set for three successive Mondays starting July 29.

Ashley-Palmertree was advised in Warren County Circuit Court last week to ask county supervisors today for more time to file a new bond that can insure her for the duration of her term in office. Ashley-Palmertree has applied for a new bond, but it’s unlikely to be finalized until July 15, her lawyers have said. County officials have indicated they aren’t convinced the potential new insurer is aware of the legal issues with the previous bond, despite confirmations of a previous claim on a bond and associated legal action. In Patterson’s motion, that concern is restated.

In June, Warren County added $90,953 to amounts demanded from the clerk. It reflects payments beyond the salary cap noted on the office’s annual financial report for 2012, a year not currently included in the civil suit.

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