JACKSON — Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill told the Mississippi Supreme Court Friday that he was justified to bar an assistant public defender from his court, saying she’s incompetent, poorly behaved and can’t follow court rules.
In a filing with the high court, Weill wrote that he believes assistant public defender Alison Kelly can no longer represent people without appeal courts reversing cases on the grounds that defendants lacked an effective lawyer.
“Suffice it to say that this court has found a serious and worsening pattern of attorney misconduct exhibited by APD Alison Kelly has presented this court with unpleasant and unique circumstance mandating a determination that APD Kelly is incapable of competently representing indigent criminal defendants on the undersigned’s docket,” Weill wrote.
Kelly had been removed from Weill’s court in 2013 after he found her “increasingly obstreperous,” but was reassigned back to Weill in 2013.
The judge wrote that Kelly improperly broke attorney-client privilege in May 2013 when questioning a witness she formerly represented. He also said she incorrectly cited civil law cases and overturned criminal cases to support her motions before Weill. The judge also alleges Kelly improperly took over representation of a case from another lawyer and recommended that client plead guilty and accept a more severe sentence than the state had discussed with the other lawyer.
Weill also said that Kelly failed to get a client moved to the state mental hospital in 2012, resulting in him staying in jail for 18 more months and later being accused of killing his cellmate. He said a similar situation happened a second time. Weill said the details of the second occurrence are in a 700-plus-page sealed exhibit intended to provide details of what he sees as Kelly’s misconduct. He said that if Kelly replied to those details in a public court filing, he wants that exhibit made public.
The dispute ended up in the Supreme Court after Hinds County Chief Public Defender Michele Harris filed for emergency relief March 9, saying Weill had illegally appointed private lawyers to represent indigent defendants in 55 cases where lower courts had named public defenders.
Weill later held Harris and assistant public defender Greg Spore in contempt, fining each one $100.
Weill denied Harris’ claim that he reassigned Kelly because she was persuading juries to find defendants not guilty.
“The trial court has no interest in which side ‘wins’ or ‘loses; in court,” Weill wrote.
The state public defender’s office, the National Association for Public Defense and the traditionally black Magnolia Bar Association have all filed briefs with Supreme Court claiming that Weill’s actions are illegal and unconstitutional. Weill wrote that while he doesn’t object to the court allowing the briefs, he said none are useful because they don’t examine the specific facts of Kelly’s conduct.
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