Local Judge on Diaz Tribunal

Lauderdale County Chancellor Sarah Springer has been chosen to sit on a seven panel tribunal which will decide whether or not state Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz should be suspended from the bench while fraud charges are pending against him.

Last month, Diaz and three others were indicted on federal fraud and bribery charges. All recently pleaded not guilty.

The charges stem from allegations dating back to 1998, which involve trial lawyers allegedly paying off bank loans for state judges in exchange for favorable verdicts.

In such a case, the state Constitution calls for the secretary of state to randomly choose a group of seven judges to decide if suspension for the Supreme Court justice is warranted. To make this fair, the names of all trial judges in the state were put into a box and randomly drawn. Judge Springer was one of those.

The chancellor for Lauderdale and Clarke Counties has been out of town and was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

So far, one of the judges chosen has been disqualified because of her affiliation with the state judicial commission.

A replacement for that judge and other chancellors who disqualify themselves will be selected, again by a random drawing, within the next 30 days.

Meanwhile, Lauderdale County Judge Frank Coleman, who is also a member of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, says when the tribunal meets, the public should expect a fair ruling.

"We take our responsibilities serious because it is our livelihood. We're talking about policing and protecting our own livelihood and if we don't police it, somebody else will," Coleman said.

Diaz is currently on a paid leave of absence from the high court. His trial date is set for Oct. 6.