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Court orders suspension for Judge Boone

The Mississippi Supreme Court Thursday ordered a 90-daysuspension without pay and a public reprimand for Post One LincolnCounty Justice Court Judge Ralph Boone over a 2009 allegation offine fixing in exchange for a sexual favor from a defendant in acourt case before him.

The high court stopped short of removing Boone from office, aswas recommended by the Mississippi Commission on JudicialPerformance, but did find his actions to be misconduct by ajudicial office-holder.

“Judge Boone’s actions constituted willful misconductprejudicial to the administration of justice which brought thejudicial office into disrepute,” the court said in a 25-page rulinghanded down Thursday afternoon.

When contacted later Thursday, Boone said he was unaware of thedecision. He issued a statement Friday morning on the court’saction.

“I am glad the Mississippi Supreme Court has made their ruling,so that we can move forward. I maintain my innocence,” said thefirst-term county official. “I want the people of Lincoln County toknow that I have never let them down. When I am re-elected tooffice, I will prove to them that their trust and confidence intheir judge has not been misplaced.”

In addition to the suspension, the court ordered a publicreprimand to be read in Lincoln County Circuit Court with Boonepresent. He was also assessed $1,907.05 in court costs.

The court’s ruling followed a Mississippi Commission on JudicialPerformance hearing in which the agency recommended Boone beremoved from office. According to Thursday’s ruling, justices werenot in agreement regarding allegations that Boone made sexualadvances involving Christina Twaddle, a female litigant who hadappeared before him in court on a public drunkenness charge.

“There is not a consensus among the justices of this Court onwhether the facts surrounding this alleged sexual conduct with afemale litigant have been established by clear and convincingevidence,” the ruling said.

According to a fact review in the ruling, Boone on April 15,2009, asked Twaddle, who had appeared in court before him earlierthat day, to ride with him so they could discuss a reduction in thefine.

In the vehicle, Boone allegedly fondled the woman and told herhe would “fix her fine” in exchange for a sexual act. The twotraded phone numbers and Boone later called the woman “on numerousoccasions” that afternoon.

Later that day, Twaddle paid $139 after a $100 fine reduction byBoone, according to court documents. There was conflictingtestimony over the timing of the fine reduction, whether it wasmade in open court or later by Boone.

While the high court justices did not agree on the sexual aspectof the case, they did find Boone’s actions violated several cannonsof judicial conduct.

According to the court document, Boone initially denied to acommission investigator ever riding in the vehicle with Twaddle,but also expressed regret about the incident. Boone told theinvestigator “he was a Christian and that he allowed the devil totake hold of him” and made his tongue “wicked.”

The day after that interview, Boone asked a Pike County JusticeCourt judge to contact the investigator to admit that he had indeedridden with Twaddle and that he wanted to straighten out his priorstatement.

Justices also based their ruling on ex parte, oroutside of court, conversations between Brookhaven Assistant PoliceChief Nolan Jones and Boone. According to the record, Jones soughtBoone’s help in reducing Twaddle’s fine because he was interestedin cultivating her as a confidential informant.

“Despite Officer Jones’ initiating the conversation and JudgeBoone’s claim that he wanted to help Jones and Twaddle, JudgeBoone’s actions were still highly improper,” the court said.

During a hearing on the complaint, Boone admitted reducingTwaddle’s fine solely on Jones’ request. However, in a brief to thecourt, Boone denied his conduct was a violation of theconstitution.

“The judge has stubbornly maintained that his actions wereentirely proper throughout the proceedings, despite his knowledgeto the contrary,” the court said.

The court emphasized that Jones should not have contacted Boone,but the judge should have firmly refused to discuss the case withhim.

Regarding the ride in the truck, the court took great exceptionto Boone’s actions, calling them “a monumental lapse in soundjudgment.” The court said that allowed an unknown number ofcitizens to see an elected judge riding around town with a femalelitigant.

The court record also includes a discussion regarding Twaddle’sattorney, Raymond Boutwell, who is Brookhaven’s Municipal Courtjudge.

During a hearing on the complaint, Boone said he only tookTwaddle riding because she had told him that Boutwell was “out toget” the judge because Boone was interested in becoming municipalcourt judge. At the hearing before the judicial performancecommission, Boone admitted interest in the city judgeship becausehe “needed the extra income” and his wife was retired.

“The magnitude of the offenses in today’s case is significantand casts the entire judiciary in a negative light,” the courtsaid. “As the Commission found, Judge Boone “also involved anotherjudge and his clerk as well as the Assistant Chief of Police inBrookhaven, Mississippi and made unfounded accusations againstTwaddle’s attorney, Raymond Boutwell.””

Boone is in his first term as justice court judge.

He is seeking re-election against Democrats Charles Ralph Smith,Joe Portrey, Harold King, Willie D. Hill. Art Likens and EdThompson are running as Republicans and Boutwell is seeking theoffice as an independent.