Legal Ethics

Mississippi Supreme Court Wallops Court Clerk with Another $10K Personal Fine

The circuit clerk of Hinds County, Miss., can’t catch a break from the Mississippi Supreme Court, which appears increasingly irritated with the way she runs her office and responds to court orders.

In a Thursday opinion (PDF), the court fined Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn $10,000 and ordered her to pay the money out of her personal funds. The reason: She used commingled funds to pay a prior $5,000 fine, imposed in September 2010, and failed to take remedial measures to correct what the court found in a prior opinion to be “recurring clerical disasters” in her office. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger has a story.

In addition to those two fines, the supreme court imposed a third fine in a different case in January to be paid from Dunn’s personal funds; a lower court judge set the amount at $9,535. That fine stemmed from a failure to meet a deadline for filing papers in an appeal.

In the latest case, the supreme court said Dunn has failed to demonstrate that she has implemented reforms to correct her office’s clerical deficiencies. The court said Dunn paid the $5,000 fine imposed in September 2010 on an account containing both public and personal funds, though she reimbursed the account with a personal check in response to a show cause order.

In Mississippi, circuit clerks are compensated with money collected from statutory fees, the opinion explains. The amount is capped at $90,000 and the rest goes into the county general fund. Dunn’s initial check came from the account of collected fees. In the court’s view, the account contained commingled funds, and Dunn was wrong to use it to pay her fine.

The court ordered Dunn to pay the $10,000 fine within 10 days. Dunn has said she will have to borrow money to pay the sanctions, the Clarion-Ledger says.

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