A black judge in Mississippi claims he was removed from office following years of resistance from a mostly white legal system to his push to treat drug offenders instead of imprisoning them.
Justice Court Judge Rickey Thompson of Lee County—named for Confederate general Robert E. Lee—is the first and only black judge in the county’s 149-year history. In May, the Mississippi Supreme Court removed him from the post that he’s held since 2004 over a slew of misconduct allegations.
“It came to the point where they couldn’t beat me at the ballot, so they had to find another direction,” he said.
Thompson said the sheriff quit sending him suspects and fellow judges quit sending the accused to his drug court. Warrants he signed for the sheriff’s department went unserved. A bailiff even once refused to open his court.
Officially, Thompson was found by Mississippi’s highest court to have violated several rules, including what amounts to making clerical errors like using the wrong form when filing paperwork. That should not be surprising given Mississippi requires only a high school diploma to be a justice court judge. (Thompson, a registered nurse with an associate degree, has more education than that of his fellow justice court magistrates.)
Thompson’s crimes include speaking up for a bail bondsman who had been previously suspended from operating by the sheriff; preventing a drug court defendant from choosing her own attorney over one he advocated for; keeping some people in drug court longer than the two years allowed by state law; wrongly incarcerating four people.
The last charge is the most important: When a handful of offenders violated the drug court’s rules, Thompson found them in contempt of court and sent them to jail. The longest sentence was six months.
If Thompson hadn’t created his drug court in the first place, the four people he locked up for contempt would have almost surely been in prison longer than they would have been for their drug offenses. That means Thompson was kicked off the bench, in part, for not locking up drug offenders for longer than he did.
The judge was popular with blacks in the county, and he kept quite a few of them out of jail for minor offenses like marijuana possession. The sheriff evidently wanted to see them in his jail or prison.
“When I first started, obviously there was a learning curve, but you see some of the bad things that are going on,” Thompson said. “And as people got to know me and know that I was going to be fair, that I wasn’t going to be a rubber stamp, that’s when the trouble started.”…More on the story here…