Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – Feb. 19, 2015

Tyrone Lewis v. Hinds Co. Circuit Court –   who has authority over bailiffs: sheriff or judges? – This was a dispute over who controls the bailiffs who work in the courthouse.  Orders issued by the circuit court in 1996 and 2012 held that the bailiffs came under the authority of the judiciary and thus the judges would hire, fire, and set salaries.  The Court examines the statutes.  MCA Sect. 19-25-19 gives sheriffs the sole power to appoint deputies.  The circuit court is given the power to remove deputies and bailiffs if, after a public hearing, it is shown that the public interest will be served.  The statute is clear.  The sheriff has the authority to compensate, appoint and remove bailiffs.  A circuit court may remove one only after a hearing. The next issue is whether the sheriff can enforce the statutory requirements (course curriculum and qualifications) as to bailiffs  if they are not primarily serving as law enforcement officers. The Miss.S.Ct. finds that they have the duty of keeping the courthouse safe and, thus, are law enforcement officers subject to teh requirements of MCA Sects.  19-25-21 and 45-6-11. The final issue is separation of powers. The sheriff is part of the executive branch.  The Court holds that it is not within the power of the judiciary to set the bailiffs hours.  The court may dictate their dress as an inherent power of the court.  That part of the court’s order  that bailiffs will be assigned to specific judges and will perform only non-judicial duties does not violate statutory law.  However, the court may not issue orders that contradict statutory law.

The instant matter hinges on whether bailiffs are deputies of the sheriff or court personnel. The language of Title 19, Chapter 25 is plain and unambiguous. The Legislature has empowered the sheriff with the authority to appoint, remove, and compensate bailiffs. Bailiffs appointed by the sheriff also have law enforcement duties, and thus, qualify as law enforcement officers. We hold that, under the Mississippi Constitution and statutory law, parts of the 1996 Order and the 2012 Order and Opinion exceed the power of the Hinds County Circuit Court and are therefore void.

Zachary Barnes v. State –  reversal for failure to give lesser included trespass instruction –  In May of  2012, Michael Scott’s apartment was broken into and burned. During the investigation, fire Investigator Chip Brown spoke with fifteen-year-old Charles Darby and Darby’s mother’s boyfriend, Zachary Barnes who lived in a trailer across the street.  Darby  named Barnes as the perpetrator. Barnes was arrested and  charged with arson.  Barnes denied any involvement.  He said he had an altercation with a neighbor the night of the crime and was stabbed. The second time Barnes was interviewed, Barnes went back home where his girlfriend, Rebecca Henson (Darby’s mother), tried to stop the bleeding.  Barnes’s story changed during the second interview; this time he admitted to being with Darby when Darby set the fire.  Barnes was convicted and sentenced to 20 years. At trial, Barnes insisted that his second statement was only made after Brown promised to get Barnes’s bond reduced and was involuntary. After a hearing, the court refused to suppress the statement. Barnes also argues that he was entitled to a trespass instruction.  The Court reverses on this issue.

Barnes’s proffered instruction was a correct statement of the law. And trespass was not covered anywhere else in the instructions. We find sufficient evidence to support a trespass instruction in the record, especially in light of this Court’s low  threshold. Darby testified that it was his idea to go to Scott’s apartment and vandalize it. He also testified that Barnes was in the apartment with him, but that Barnes only watched him throw things around. Barnes said “let’s go” to Darby, and he stayed by the front door while Darby was “running around” the apartment. And Henson testified that Darby and Barnes both had told her that Barnes had stayed outside Scott’s apartment during the incident. Based on this testimony, we find more than enough evidence to support a trespass instruction.

Bronwyn Benoist Parker v. William Dean Benoist AND William D. Benoist, Individually, and in his Capacity of Executor of the Estate of Billy Dean “B.D.” Benoist, Deceased v. Bronwyn Benoist Parker –  standard for removing executor– The Court grants rehearing. This is the case of first impression wherein the court held that an in terrorem clause will not prohibit a beneficiary from inheriting if she challenges the will in good faith.  I wrote about that opinion here. Apparently the opinion is changed only  insofar as the Court earlier upheld the chancellor’s refusal to remove William as the executor.   Now the Court also reverses on that issue:  “Because the chancellor applied the wrong legal standard and incorrectly believed that only uncontested evidence was sufficient to remove William as the executor of his father’s estate, we must reverse the chancellor’s decision and remand for a determination of whether a temporary executor should be appointed. On remand, the chancellor must use the correct legal standard, with the understanding that it is within his discretion to remove William as the executor even though Bronwyn’s evidence may be contested.”

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