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Judge to hear Hoods' pardon challenge, lawyer lays blame with AG

JACKSON — A Hinds County judge will hear arguments from Attorney General Jim Hood who is challenging dozens of pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour.

Circuit Judge Tomie Green scheduled the hearing for 3 p.m. today in Jackson.

Hood wants to return those who were freed by Barbour, including convicted killers, to the prison system. The vast majority of people who could be stripped of their pardons won’t be sent back to prison because they were out before Barbour’s action.

Barbour, a Republican who ended his second term Jan. 10, pardoned about 203 people in his final days in office.

Hood, the lone Democrat in statewide office, challenged those pardons in court Jan. 11. He filed an amended complaint last week seeking to block dozens of other pardons.

In a related item, the state attorney general’s office was involved in getting pardons approved by Barbour but has hidden its involvement in the process, according to an attorney for four of the former inmate trusties who received a pardon.

Tom Fortner, a former Hinds County public defender, has asked a Hinds County Circuit Court judge to disqualify Hood from the lawsuit seeking to overturn some of Barbour’s reprieves. The Clarion-Ledger also reports Fortner also wants the lawsuit dismissed.

“This entire conflict has been created by the attorney general’s office, not the governor’s office,” Fortner said. “Now (a judge) is being asked to clean up his mess.”

Along with his motions, Fortner provided evidence that Assistant Attorney General David Scott, assigned to represent the Mississippi Department of Corrections, gave legal advice regarding how to publish pardon notifications for the former trusties and then agreed to the responsibility of running the notifications himself.

Fortner claims that Scott exchanged text messages with Daryl Neely, Barbour’s policy adviser. He says the messages show Neely asked Scott to place the notifications for former mansion trusties in various newspapers, and Scott agreed.

In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, Hood spokeswoman Jan Schaeffer would not say yesterday if the attorney general’s office gave advice or participated in the notification process.

“Mr. Fortner’s last minute motions boil down to nothing more than an attempt by these convicts to say the Governor is above the law. These allegations have absolutely no merit and we will argue them in court at the proper time,” the statement said.

The basis of Hood’s lawsuit is that the newspaper notices required by the state constitution were not handled properly for the pardons, including those granted to five trusties who worked at the governor’s mansion. The constitution says a governor cannot grant a pardon until the applicant has published his request for a pardon for 30 days in a newspaper in the county where the crime was committed.

Hood called Barbour’s decision to grant clemency to more than 200 people during his last week in office a “shame” and pursued the legal challenge following outrage expressed by victims’ families, lawmakers and the general public. Of the 203 pardons Barbour granted, 168 recipients had no publication or insufficient publication, Hood’s office said last Friday.

But Fortner said Hood has not been forthcoming.

“The governor (granted pardons) based on advice and action by the attorney general’s office — that’s what the attorney general never told Judge Green or the press when he was making this big announcement damning the governor,” Fortner said.

Laura Hipp, Barbour’s press secretary, said Barbour has not seen Fortner’s motions, “but he understands that what has been pleaded by Mr. Fortner is consistent with the facts as we have understood them the whole time.”

Barbour has accused Hood, a Democrat, of targeting him for political reasons. He will not attend the hearing, Hipp said.


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