- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The state Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a call to remove a south Mississippi chancery judge, suspending and fining him instead.

The high court ruled 5-3 that the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance hadn’t proved that Chancery Judge David Shoemake lied under oath, although justices did say Shoemake improperly signed orders that contributed to the mismanagement of an estate the court was overseeing. Another judge was removed for mismanagement in the same case.

“While we have not had the opportunity to observe Shoemake’s demeanor at both hearings, the plain text of them show cause and formal hearing transcripts cast doubt upon the commission’s findings,” wrote Justice Josiah Coleman for the majority. “Our doubt rises to a degree that we cannot find by clear and convincing evidence that Shoemake gave false or misleading testimony constituting judicial misconduct.”

Coleman wrote that removing Shoemake would be “over-proportionate to the harm.” Instead, the court suspended Shoemake 30 days without pay, and ordered him to pay a $2,500 fine and nearly $5,900 for investigation costs. Justices also ordered that Shoemake be publicly reprimanded in Simpson County Circuit Court.

Bill Jones, a lawyer for Shoemake, had alleged that the Judicial Performance Commission had acted without giving Shoemake proper notice of the investigation, and said Shoemake still believes the case should have been dismissed.

“Other than that, it’s pretty much a total victory for Judge Shoemake,” Jones said. “The notion that he tried to be deceitful in his testimony before the commission is just totally untrue.”

Shoemake is one of two judges in a chancery district that includes Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Simpson and Smith counties. Until May 2014, the other judge in that district was Joe Dale Walker. After resigning, Walker pleaded guilty in October to instructing a federal grand jury witness to destroy documents and then lying to FBI agents.

Prosecutors said that Walker, in 2011, directed the attorney he had appointed for a conservatorship to solicit bids from local contractors to build a home for a ward in a case Walker oversaw.

The five bids included one from Walker’s nephew, Chad Teater.

Prosecutors say Walker reviewed the bids, found that Teater’s bid was much lower than the others, and instructed his nephew to raise his bid.

Due to his nephew’s involvement, Walker then transferred the case to Shoemake to accept the bids.

The Supreme Court agreed Thursday that Shoemake improperly signed orders after holding illegal private conferences with one lawyer and without inquiring himself what would be best for the ward. Two dissenting justices wanted to require Shoemake to personally repay $23,000 that Shoemake approved for stolen building materials, but the five-member majority ruled that restitution isn’t permitted in judicial discipline cases.


Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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