A Mississippi judge is being reprimanded. According to a ruling from the Mississippi Supreme Court, Hinds County Justice Court Judge Frank Sutton will be suspended from office for one month without pay and will receive a public reprimand in addition to a $500 fine.
This action comes as a result of Sutton violating standards of conduct by seeing to get charges dropped for personal acquaintances. Based on complaints against Judge Sutton, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance initiated an inquiry into his role in two matters. The subsequent investigation led to the Commission’s filing a formal complaint. Judge Sutton did not file an answer to the complaint; instead, he and the Commission stipulated to agreed facts.
The Commission then unanimously adopted those facts in its findings of fact and recommendation. The Commission recommended that Judge Sutton be publicly reprimanded and fined $500.
The first matter occurred on January 31, 2018, when Hinds County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Nick Brown arrested and charged Amanda Howard with prostitution. Howard’s hearing was scheduled for February 22, 2018. The day after Howard’s arrest, Michael Liddell approached Judge Sutton in court and asked Judge Sutton if he could help Liddell with the charges pending against Howard. That afternoon, Judge Sutton called Investigator Brown and asked him if he could “help him out” on the prostitution charge against Howard because he knew her family. Investigator Brown told Judge Sutton that he would not “help him out” with the prostitution charge. That same day—February 1, 2018, Judge Sutton, sua sponte and without a hearing, remanded Howard’s prostitution charge to the file, subject to recall.
The second instance occurred on June 26, 2018, when Hinds County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Keith Burnett arrested Barry Jones and charged him with possession of marijuana. Jones’s mother, who is a parishioner at Fairfield Missionary Baptist Church where Judge Sutton serves as pastor, approached Judge Sutton and asked if he could help Jones. Judge Sutton called Investigator Burnett and inquired about Jones’s arrest and pending charges. Judge Sutton asked about the weight of the marijuana collected from Jones and whether the charge was a misdemeanor or felony. Investigator Burnett informed Judge Sutton that 35.2 grams of marijuana had been collected from Jones’s apartment and that he was charging Jones with “Possession of a Controlled Substance Felony.” The record is silent as to what Judge Sutton did with this information.
The opinion issued states: “Judge Sutton did not promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. His actions were also influenced by social relationships and conveyed the impression that those acquaintances were in a position to influence his actions as a judge.”