Defense Attorney Challenges Court Review of Pardons

By: Mike McDaniel Email
By: Mike McDaniel Email

A court hearing is just days away to determine whether pardons by former governor, Haley Barbour, should be voided.

But that hearing may not happen if one defense attorney has his way. The move is designed, not only to prevent a judge from hearing the case, but to prevent any judge from making a direct ruling.

The case as to whether pardons are valid is becoming a legal argument over a court's power to make the decision.

"The primary issue here is, can any court review the exercise of the governor's pardon power under these circumstances," said Tom Fortner, defense attorney for four of five former trusties at the Governor's Mansion. "And our position is they cannot; it's non reviewable."

On behalf of his clients who were pardoned by Haley Barbour, Fortner filed an emergency petition in hopes of getting his clients' cases out of Hinds County Circuit Court and up the steps to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Fortner says a judge should not have the authority to consider the validity of a governor's pardon power.

"To allow the pardon power to then be question by the courts, completely wipes out why we have the pardon power in the first place," Fortner said.

In a statement, Attorney General Jim Hood called efforts by Fortner a 'sideshow'. He says the fact is, Gov. Barbour didn't follow the law.

"They're going to try to get it up there and slow everything down, but really it's a simple issue," Hood said.

That issue is the Mississippi Constitution, which requires a thirty-day notice be published for anyone seeking a pardon before it can be granted.

Hood says the requirement was not met in most cases including those who served as trusties.
Fortner says it didn't have to be.

"If the separation of powers argument is confirmed by the Mississippi Supreme Court, then all the other talk about publication and who is or who isn't an application and so forth, it's unimportant. It's irrelevant," Fortner said.

Pointing to the same section of the Constitution, Fortner says only the legislature can review a governor's pardon, which is why he asking the state's high court to step in before Judge Tomie Green makes a decision as early as Friday as to whether a handful of pardons should be voided.

"I think Mr. Hood is refusing to address the initial issue or whether or not a court can review the governor's right to pardon," said Fortner.

At this point, there's been no ruling from the justices on this current petition.

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