MISS. COM'N ON JUD. PERFORM. v. Byers

Citation757 So.2d 961
Decision Date17 February 2000
Docket NumberNo. 1998-JP-01835-SCT.,1998-JP-01835-SCT.
PartiesMISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE v. Shirley C. BYERS.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi

Luther T. Brantley, III, Jackson, Attorney for Appellant.

Reuben V. Anderson, James W. Craig, Jackson, Attorneys for Appellee.

EN BANC.

COBB, Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint charging Judge Shirley C. Byers, Circuit Court Judge for the Fourth Circuit District, with judicial misconduct. After investigation a three-member committee appointed by the Commission conducted a trial and submitted its Committee Findings of Fact and Recommendations to the Commission. Judge Byers filed objections to the Committee's Findings, and on December 11, 1998, the Commission unanimously adopted the Committee Findings, as amended, and unanimously recommended to this Court that Judge Byers be removed from office and pay all costs associated with this matter, totaling $2,023.59.

¶ 2. Having conducted a de novo review of the entire record, this Court accepts and adopts a substantial portion of the Commission's findings, but not its recommended sanction of removal. Acknowledging that the voters of her district have already removed Judge Byers from office, we find that Judge Byers should be publicly reprimanded, fined $1,500, and taxed with all costs of these proceedings.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶ 3. Shirley C. Byers was elected Circuit Judge of the Fourth Circuit Court District in November 1994 and began her duties in January 1995. During her first year in office, two letters of complaint were filed with the Commission, both arising out of the same incident. This complaint was dismissed by the Commission due to insufficient evidence. Other complaints surfaced that warranted investigation, and eventually two formal complaints were filed against Judge Byers. In the first formal complaint, Judge Byers was given a private admonishment.

¶ 4. The second formal complaint, the subject of this proceeding, charges Judge Byers with six counts of judicial misconduct, as follows:

(1) Count I—improperly sentencing a defendant under the wrong statute;
(2) Count 2—improperly extending a defendant's probation and improperly placing him on supervised probation;
(3) Count 3—interfering with orders set by the senior judge;
(4) Count 4—entering orders previously entered by another judge;
(5) Count 5—abusing contempt powers; and
(6) Count 6—engaging in the above actions, which constitutes judicial misconduct

¶ 5. Judge Byers claims that the formal complaint was based on prosecutorial misconduct and race-based discrimination in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and § 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended.

¶ 6. After completion of the Commission's investigation, a committee, composed of presiding Judge Clarence E. Morgan, III, Amy D. Whitten and Erik M. Lowrey conducted a trial. After hearing witnesses, considering the evidence and arguments of counsel, and reviewing all evidence and testimony, the committee filed its Findings of Fact and Recommendations, dismissing Count 4 and finding judicial misconduct with regard to all other counts. Taking judicial notice of Judge Byers's defeat in the November 1998 election, the committee recommended that she be suspended from office for six months without pay, if and when she is elected or appointed to any judicial office in Mississippi. Judge Byers submitted objections to the committee's findings pursuant to Rule 8(E) of the Rules of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance.

¶ 7. Subsequently the seven members of the Commission unanimously adopted the committee's findings and recommendations, as amended, finding by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Byers's conduct violated Canons 1, 2 A, 2 B and 3 A(1), 3 B(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct of Mississippi Judges and Miss.Code Ann. §§ 99-15-26, 47-7-37, 47-7-47, and 9-7-3. Further, the Commission found that her conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute, in violation of Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended.

¶ 8. The Commission voted unanimously to recommend to this Court that Judge Byers be removed from office and assessed costs. The Commission filed its Findings of Fact and Recommendations with this Court on January 5, 1999. Judge Byers raises the following issues before this Court:

ISSUES
I. SHOULD THE COMMISSION'S FORMAL COMPLAINT HAVE BEEN DISMISSED DUE TO: A. PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT BY THE COMMISSION'S STAFF AND/OR B. EQUAL PROTECTION VIOLATIONS
II. DID THE CONDUCT OF JUDGE SHIRLEY C. BYERS CONSTITUTE WILLFUL MISCONDUCT IN OFFICE AND CONDUCT PREJUDICIAL TO THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE WHICH BRINGS THE JUDICIAL OFFICE INTO DISREPUTE, PURSUANT TO SECTION 177A OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, AS AMENDED
III. SHOULD JUDGE SHIRLEY C. BYERS BE REMOVED FROM OFFICE AND ASSESSED THE COSTS OF THIS PROCEEDING BY THE MISSISSIPPI SUPREME COURT, PURSUANT TO SECTION 177A OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, AS AMENDED

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 9. The appropriate standard of review used in a judicial disciplinary proceeding is derived from Rule 10(E) of the Rules of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, which states:

Based upon a review of the entire record, the Supreme Court shall prepare and publish a written opinion and judgment directing such disciplinary action, if any, as it finds just and proper. The Supreme Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendation of the Commission. In the event that more than one (1) recommendation for discipline of the judge is filed, the Supreme Court may render a single decision or impose a single sanction with respect to all recommendations.

Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Sanders, 708 So.2d 866, 871 (Miss.1998). This Court conducts a de novo review of judicial misconduct proceedings, giving great deference to the recommendations of the Commission. Its findings must be based on clear and convincing evidence. This Court is not bound by the recommendations and must render an independent judgment. Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Spencer, 725 So.2d 171, 174 (Miss.1998).

ANALYSIS

I. SHOULD THE COMMISSION'S FORMAL COMPLAINT HAVE

BEEN DISMISSED DUE TO: A. PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT BY THE COMMISSION'S STAFF AND/OR B. DUE TO EQUAL PROTECTION VIOLATIONS

(A) The Allegation of Prosecutorial Misconduct

¶ 10. Judge Byers charged that the initial investigation against her was conducted by a staff member whose participation in the investigation amounted to prosecutorial misconduct because that staff member's application for a job as a judicial law clerk in the Fourth Circuit Court District had been denied, in part, on the recommendation of Judge Byers.

¶ 11. A review of the complaint process reveals that the Commission has jurisdiction over every judge of any court in existence in the State of Mississippi. The Commission's duties, function and purpose are set forth by constitutional provision, general statutory law and Rules of the Commission. The purpose of the Commission is rehabilitative, educational and disciplinary, and the proceedings are civil in nature. The Commission may begin an inquiry on its own motion based upon information received anonymously, from the media or through any other source. After receiving a complaint, a file is opened, the complaint is assigned a number, and a preliminary evaluation of each complaint is conducted. A complaint may be dismissed summarily at that point, and a significant number are, primarily because they are directed at decisions made by a judge which fall within judicial discretion. Those complaints which warrant further attention are investigated by Commission staff. The judge in question is notified and given an opportunity to respond. The Commission may dismiss the complaint, privately admonish the judge, enter into a memorandum of understanding with the judge, or file a formal complaint against the judge. If a formal complaint is filed, the judge is given an opportunity to file responsive pleadings and a formal hearing is held before the Commission or before a three-member Committee of judges/lawyers appointed by the Commission. The findings of fact and recommendations, and the record of the hearing are then filed with this Court. This Court may suspend, fine, publicly censure or reprimand, or remove a judge whose actions constitute misconduct. Procedural safeguards provide a judge with an opportunity to be presented with the charges, to be represented by counsel, and to respond and be heard.1

¶ 12. In judicial misconduct proceedings, this Court will review the entire record, and it is the trier of fact. Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Fletcher, 686 So.2d 1075, 1078 (Miss.1996). Based on the record before us in the present case, we find that the established procedures were properly followed, and there was no prosecutorial misconduct. The first complaints against Judge Byers were received before the staff member in question ever began working for the Commission. The Commission later assigned the complaint to the new staff member who then proceeded to investigate under the direction of the Commission. The staff member personally spoke with Judge Byers about the complaint, before speaking with anyone else. After Judge Byers expressed concern to a Commission member about this particular staff member being the investigator, the Commission promptly removed the staff member from this investigation.

¶ 13. The Commission has multiple roles as investigator and prosecutor and "[t]he processes of the Commission do not in and of themselves appear to present an unacceptable risk of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16 cases
  • Miss. Com'n On Jud. Perf. v. Osborne
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 18, 2009
    ...Judicial Performance v. Boland, 975 So.2d 882 (Miss.2008) (Boland I), we will not belabor the point. In Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Byers, 757 So.2d 961 (Miss.2000), the Commission had recommended removal from office prior to Judge Byers losing her bid for reelection. ......
  • Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Osborne, No. 2008-JP-00454-SCT (Miss. 2/5/2009), 2008-JP-00454-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 5, 2009
    ...felt public reprimand and the assessment of costs were appropriate. Id. at 898. ¶ 33. Likewise, in Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Byers, 757 So. 2d 961 (Miss. 2000), the Commission had recommended removal from office prior to Judge Byers losing her bid for reelection. Bec......
  • Miss. Com'n On Judical Perform. v. Osborne
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • January 31, 2008
    ...a harsher penalty. See Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Brown, 918 So.2d 1247, 1256 (Miss.2005); Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Byers, 757 So.2d 961 (Miss.2000); Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Sanders, 749 So.2d 1062 (Miss.1999). (5) Whether moral turpitude was invo......
  • Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Skinner
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • August 1, 2013
    ...of justice, bringing the judicial office into disrepute. See Osborne, 16 So.3d 16;Darby, 75 So.3d 1037;Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Byers, 757 So.2d 961 (Miss.2000).B. Whether the recommended sanction is appropriate. ¶ 12. The sanction in a judicial misconduct case should fit the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT