Judge is accused of barring mother from seeing her child for 14 months over fee nonpayment

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A Mississippi judge has resigned after he was accused of barring a mother from seeing her child until she paid court fees, keeping the 4-month-old child from the mother for the next 14 months.

Judge John Shirley of Pearl, Mississippi, told the Clarion Ledger his resignation was not related to the accusation. He said he couldn’t discuss the specific case, but his no-contact orders are issued when there is abuse or neglect of a child.

The mother contacted the MacArthur Justice Center of the University of Mississippi last week, according to a press release. The center obtained an order reversing Shirley’s decision on Wednesday and asked Pearl officials to fire Shirley.

Shirley resigned at a Wednesday evening meeting of the Pearl Board of Aldermen, which voted to close the youth court and to move its matters to Rankin County Youth Court. Shirley told the Clarion Ledger he resigned because of disagreements with the mayor. “I got tired of the policies in that administration,” he said.

The mother was not represented by a lawyer when Shirley issued the no-contact order. Her case landed in youth court after a police officer stopped the car in which she was riding for minor traffic violations, discovering outstanding warrants for misdemeanor offenses for both the mother and the driver, according to the press release. The 4-month-old child was riding in the car in a car seat.

The officer had claimed the child was abandoned as a result of the arrest, according to the press release.

“The baby’s grandmother arrived on the scene within minutes, yet the officer still insisted that the child be taken before Judge Shirley at the Pearl Youth Court,” the press release said. “Less than half an hour later, Judge Shirley awarded custody to the baby’s grandmother. An order was later entered prohibiting [the mother] from having any contact with her baby until court fees were paid in full.”

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Mississippi office, alleged in the press release that such no-contact orders “are tantamount to judicial kidnapping.”

Johnson said he believed Shirley had issued similar orders in other cases. The Clarion-Ledger reported that several others had called the newspaper to say that a similar thing had happened to them.

The Washington Post notes the case.

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