Judge steps aside after controversy over drug sentence

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2003

McCOMB — Circuit Judge Mike Smith has recused himself frompresiding over a case in which he was accused of having improperconversations with a narcotics agent regarding the defendant.

Smith’s order in the case involving Ricky Ramsey, 25, of Summit,leaves intact the judge’s acceptance of Ramsey’s guilty plea topossession and sale of cocaine charges but sets the stage foranother judge to re-sentence the man. Smith’s order transfers thecase to Judge Keith Starrett.

Ramsey was initially sentenced by Smith to 20 years after hepleaded guilty with a district attorney’s office recommendation ofeight years.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Joe Fernald of Brookhaven, Ramsey’s attorney, objected andalleged that the stiffer sentence resulted from a conversation thejudge had with a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent regardingthe defendant’s drug-related activities. Such a conversation wouldbe considered “ex parte” and is prohibited under court rules.

The Clarion-Ledger newspaper reported the allegationsSunday. The Enterprise-Journal reported Monday that Smithreduced Ramsey’s sentence to 12 years yesterday.

Smith has maintained that he spoke with an MBN agent after theplea was entered and that he an obligation to inquire about peoplehe is sentencing.

In his order, issued later Monday, Smith said the court and theMBN has complied fully in all respects of the law. Citing recentnewspaper publicity, the order sets aside the sentencing orders andthe judge’s rejection of defense motions challenging the court’sactions.

When contacted Tuesday morning, the judge also referred to themedia attention while discussing his recusal.

“It’s not who’s right or who’s wrong, it has to do with peoplethinking there may be some impropriety from what they read in thenewspaper,” Smith said.

Fernald said Monday that he had prepared documents to appeal thejudge’s motion denials to the state Supreme Court. Those wereexpected to be entered today.

When contacted Tuesday about the judge’s recusal orders, Fernaldhad no comment. He said he had not seen the orders and did not wantto speculate on their effect on the case.