Grand jury date for arrested judge not yet decided

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 29, 2004

MONTICELLO — Law officials have not determined when the case ofa Lawrence County Justice Court judge arrested on drug charges willgo before the grand jury.

Justice Court Judge Post 1 Bobby Fortenberry, 46, of 60 Mary LouTurner Rd., New Hebron, was arrested Friday at a Brookhaven truckstop and charged with possession of 2.5 grams of methamphetaminewith intent to distribute and conspiracy to distribute. The arrestwas made by officers of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and theMississippi Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigative Bureau.

Fortenberry remained in the Lincoln County Jail Monday morningon a $1 million cash bond set Friday night by Circuit Judge MikeSmith.

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Fortenberry is a 16-year veteran of the bench who won reelectionto a fifth term in November.

Dewitt “Dee” Bates, district attorney for the 14th District,said the case will be presented before the next grand jury, but hecould not say when that might be.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Byrd has been working thecase, Bates said, and will continue to do so through the trial.

“I really can’t comment any further on the prosecution,” Batessaid.

If convicted, Fortenberry faces a maximum sentence of 30 yearsin prison and a $1 million fine for the possession charge and 20years in prison and a $500,000 fine on the conspiracy charge.Additionally, a felony conviction would remove him from thebench.

“If a judge is convicted, they cannot continue to practice,”Bates said.

Bates could not say whether Fortenberry would be permitted tocontinue to try cases until his trial.

“That is something the Judicial Performance Board will have todetermine,” he said.

Fortenberry’s arrest was the culmination of an investigationspanning years by the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department,Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, Pearl River Basin Narcotics TaskForce, Mississippi Highway Patrol Criminal Investigative Bureau,14th District District Attorney’s Office and the state AttorneyGeneral’s Office.

“We’ve had an ongoing investigation on him going back at leastfour years,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames.

Thames said members of the public alerted him that the judge wasallegedly selling drugs and have continued to provide informationand lodge complaints for the past several years.

“There’s been years of public complaints about him alleging druginvolvement,” Thames said.

Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Captain Mike Aldridge said morearrests might be forthcoming.

“The possibility of further arrests exists in relation to thiscase,” he said. “We appreciate the support and confidence SheriffThames gave the Bureau of Narcotics in letting us have free rein inthis investigation. We also appreciate the Lincoln County SheriffOffice and the assistance they gave us.”