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Immunity sought in Hinds suit

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Posted: Nov 28, 2010 9:56 AM
Source: Associated Press

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Topics: jackson, mississippi, new, orleans, judge, appeals, court, immunity, hinds, county, houston, patton, wbrz, louisiana

JACKSON, Miss. - A Mississippi judge is asking a federal appeals court to restore his immunity from being sued over claims that he knowingly made false claims to authorities.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals scheduled arguments for Dec. 6 in New Orleans on the appeal filed by Hinds County Judge Houston Patton.

Saturday's Clarion-Ledger reported that in February, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee rejected Patton's assertion that as a judge Patton could not be held liable. Patton has been a county court judge since 1990. He defeated two candidates on Nov. 2 for another four-year term.

James Jennings Jr. of Mendenhall sued Patton and former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters in 2008.

The lawsuit revolves around a 1997 alleged crime in which Patton accused Jennings and his attorney, J. Keith Shelton, of trying to bribe him. Jennings and Shelton were indicted but never tried. The charges eventually were dismissed.

Jennings filed a complaint against Patton with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, the state's watchdog group for judges. Patton told authorities Shelton and Jennings offered to drop Jennings' complaint for $25,000.

Both Patton and Peters filed motions asking that Jennings' lawsuit be dismissed.

Jennings claims that after Shelton approached Patton to discuss settling a potential wrongful imprisonment suit against the judge, Patton contacted the district attorney's office and falsely reported that Shelton and Jennings were attempting to bribe him, according to the suit.

"In the court's opinion, based on plaintiff's version of the facts, no reasonable argument can be made that Patton's alleged acts of making false statements to law enforcement and withholding material and exculpatory information to bring about the criminal prosecution of two innocent men are judicial or adjudicative acts," Lee wrote in his ruling.

Lee agreed to throw out the claim against Peters because he said prosecutors are immune from liability for acts associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process - such as initiating prosecutions, presenting the state's case and pursuing a criminal prosecution.

In his appeal to the 5th Circuit, Patton denies any wrongdoing. However, Patton's attorneys contend whether Patton acted maliciously or corruptly while performing a judicial act does not change the judicial nature and function of his act.

"When a judge performs a judicial function, he is entitled to absolute judicial immunity as a matter of law. In the instant case, Judge Patton was performing a judicial function when he reported the visit of Keith Shelton," Patton's attorneys said in their brief.

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