Judge Jeffrey Weill: No Zealous PDs Allowed

Perhaps the nicest thing any judge could say about public defenders is that they’re too zealous in the defense of their clients.  It should happen everywhere, except in the courtroom of Hind County, Mississippi Judge Jeffrey Weill. He’s having none of it, according to Jon Rapping.

Judge Jeffrey Weill seems to believe public defenders should be more deferential to him and less passionate in the representation of their clients.  Apparently disapproving of the zealous advocacy of one public defender, Judge Weill removed her from all of her cases and, according to Public Defender Michelle Harris, to identify any specific behavior that violated the lawyer’s professional obligations to her clients, or the court.

The story is frustrating, in that Weill fails to offer anything the PD did, “any specific behavior,” that justifies, or even explains, what got him bent out of shape.  As described in the Clarion-Ledger, the biggest issue is that the PD, Allison Kelly, wins too much.

Weill said in a letter to Public Defender Michele Harris that his office has experienced an ongoing problem of unprofessional conduct by Assistant Public Defender Alison Kelly.

“Unfortunately, despite my making you aware of the behavior exhibited by Ms. Kelly on more than one occasion, the problems continue and have significantly worsened,” he said.

Harris said Kelly is a senior assistant public defender who is a zealot for her clients and has a high percentage of winning cases. Harris said in court papers that Weill presented no specific misconduct.

Rather than let Weill banish Kelly from his courtroom for failure to respect his authoritah, Public Defender Harris objected, and Weill responded by holding PD Greg Spore and Harris in contempt for refusing to abandon their clients.

Weill had given a case that had been handled by the Public Defender’s Office to a private attorney. Spore objected. Weill told him to stand down. Spore said he wasn’t going to stand down.

Weill threatened Spore with criminal contempt. He took a 15 minute break and said he will come back and deal with Spore. Weill also refused to allow Assistant Public Defender Alison Kelly, who he said he didn’t want handling cases anymore in his court. Weill held Harris in contempt after she refused his request to stand down. Judge Weill had Harris removed from the courtroom by a bailiff after she refused to “stand down.”

Harris said the client was assigned to her office and she won’t stand down.

It’s generally accepted that within the four walls of a courtroom the judge is God, petty one though he might be.  Lawyers are taught that the answer to most commands is comply now, grieve later.  Harris and the public defenders in her office refused to do that, as there is an exception to this rule where the lives of clients are put wrongfully at risk in the process.

Rapping goes down the inspiration path in his reaction to Weill’s actions.

This case is yet another example of local authorities disregarding the rights of our most vulnerable citizens.  It should leave every person who is concerned about justice troubled.  Wielding power to interfere with fundamental rights of the least powerful is exactly what our Founding Fathers feared the most.  Few things could be less consistent with what our Constitution demands of those given the privilege to preside as judge.  Many of us are a paycheck away from needing the services of the public defender should we be wrongly accused of a crime.  The citizens of Hinds County are fortunate to have a public defender willing to fight for their constitutional rights.  They should demand their judges do the same.

On a more substantive level, since I’ve never been exactly clear on what the Founding Fathers feared the most, the judge’s “dismissal” of a public defender and interference in the attorney/client relationship goes beyond the court’s lawful power.  Hard as it may be to imagine, even petty tyrants can’t do anything they please. At least not lawfully.

It’s not that a judge lacks the authority to ban a lawyer from his courtroom, but to do so, there must be a basis in law beyond the conclusory assertion that  they aren’t sufficiently obsequious.  If the problem was lack of proper respect, then Weill should have identified the conduct so that it would be subject to correction, challenge and review.  That it hurt his sensitive judicial feelings means squat.

On the other hand, Weill’s heavy hand leaves one with the clear sense that his issue was that Kelly was kicking too much butt in his courtroom, was too effective, too zealous, representing her clients.  Tough nuggies, judge. That’s what lawyers are supposed to do, unless and until they cross an identified line.  If so, then it’s the judge’s job to identify what they did to cross that line, rather than whine and fine for doing their job too well.

But Weill’s transferring the PD’s cases to other counsel (which raises the question of why other counsel are happily aiding the judge’s actions), raises significant right to counsel concerns.

“An immediate stay is necessary to prevent such illegal and wrongful transfer of Hinds County Public Defender’s Office clients,” the petition said. In it, Harris and Kelly also filed 55 notices of recusal asking that Weill be removed from presiding over criminal cases handled by Kelly.

Once the PD is assigned, the defendant becomes their client and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice kicks in.  The defendant’s lawyer can’t be removed as lawyer without a request and/or good cause.  Weill has stated that he will allow the PD’s office to continue to appear before him, except for Kelly.  Harris refuses to allow her PDs to do so if Kelly is denied the ability to defend her clients as well, as she won’t acquiesce to Judge Weill’s demand that public defenders can appear before him provided they aren’t too zealous and don’t win too much.

And sadly, the scenario played out in Hinds County, Mississippi, isn’t just an outlier.

H/T Wrongway

18 thoughts on “Judge Jeffrey Weill: No Zealous PDs Allowed

  1. Wrongway

    How does one fight this type of thing ??
    Judges & Prosecutors are immune as long as they’re acting in that capacity.
    So how does a guy who makes $50k/yr stand up to this ??
    How can anyone accused of anything expect fair & equal treatment under the law if this is allowed to stand ??
    In my opinion, they can’t.
    As a just a regular schmuk who tries to stay informed on these matters, I know that me “joe asshole” doesn’t stand a chance without someone standing with me.. & now that this is being tossed up as a legitimate reason to deny due process, this is really frightening..
    What’s next??
    Why have a jury then ??

      1. Wrongway

        no.. but screw it.. i drive a truck for a living..
        and honestly, no one but me gives a crap about my opinion..
        but thanx for addressing my concerns about this..

        this is just nuts..

        1. William Doriss

          50K per annum ain’t chopped liver, except perhaps N.Y.C or L.A.
          If you’re making 50K, you should be able to able to hire your own private lawyer, IMO.
          One of my appellate justices said, “If Mr. D. was able to afford the cost of a dog, he should be able to afford the restitution.” I cannot believe she just said that!
          Judges and justices say the damndest things in Amerika. It IS nuts. It is also bizarre in the nth degree. Furthermore, my dear Watson, if you don’t like the courts in Hinds Co., Miss., you can always leave and go to Kings Co., New York. Ha. Seriously, that’s what my folks did. That was one hundred years ago.
          The more things change in ol’ MISS, the more they stay the same. Maybe they’re still fighting the Civil War. Who knows?
          Finally, Alison Kelly would appear to be “overqualified” AND “underpaid” in 0l’ Miss. Happy truckin’. Watch out for the potholes,… and the bad driver-judges out there. You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. This is why judges and sheriffs should not be elected. You are either born a judge, or not.

      2. WheezeThePupils™

        Oh, I was so confused when I first read that comment. I thought the judge’s name in the post was “Joe Asshole”, not the commentator’s . . . Based on the facts of the post, I don’t believe that the honorable judge “Shit for Brains” is fit to be entrusted with the secret judicial handshake, let alone a courtroom . . .

        1. John Barleycorn


          It is starting to dawn on me that you are not the reincarnation of the AWOL SJ back pages commentator Wheeze The People caretaker of the Fringed Spencer Coat are you?


          If this flashback inducing assessment of mine, with William and Lawrence dancing about lately too, correct? If so, I must warn you now, that there is no escape and you will have to submit a photo of yourself wearing your best court attire sooner or latter.


          Welcome the mystical realm of the SJ back pages. You are joining a relatively new crop of SJ back page talent that is shaping up nicely.

          If you are a reincarnation what took you so long?

          1. WheezeThePupils™

            From pupa to chrysalis to the most beautiful of butterfly tain’t for the weak of heart; it takes time — just like excellent moonshine or the finest of whines and whores . . .

            I’m tanned, rested, and ready, fer sure, fer sure . . .

            And for you Barleycorn, I might just send you my latest nude photos from my modeling portfolio, sporting only the Spence jacket and the cobra head boots. Frankly, I’ve been getting a lot of offers to do high-end romantic XXX fetish porn. Want to be my agent, manager, or fluffer?? I’m currently accepting applications . . .

            1. John Barleycorn

              I am gonna get the glossies and the boots even if I have to shave some points off my commission. There is a lot of fresh meat out here. What the heck took you so long to reincarnate?

              Outstanding career move BTW. Porn will give you a limitless pallet of Wheezes to trade mark in the future.

              No worries, if you want to take it to the top and rock, I’ll hook you up. A man of your tender years could probably pull off at least six or seven full production series if you really put your bones into it. If you play your cards right you could probably even pull off setting up your own subscription channel early for the ride down as well.

              Should be some bucks in it for you too Wheeze. Your track record before the bench speaks for itself.

              Porn is hiring generation X’ers like you with the work ethic to get -‘er- done in any position under pressure with only an appropriate timed grunt or two and never an inappropriately timed whine for the ’70 classics
              remakes too.

              Got to go…It’s time to send Judge Weill’s Diaper contract off to legal for final review.
              Wait until you have a chance to see see this guy throwing a tantrum in public and then retreating to his chambers to suckle on his pacifier. He’s gonna be a star. Just look at his photo. With the way this guy starches his collar ain’t no way he isn’t going to the top.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    Not quite sure how to parse this, maybe:

    … and, according to Public Defender Michelle Harris, [failed] to identify any specific behavior …

  3. Bartleby the Scrivener

    The only appropriate ‘bar’ can see in this situation would be to bar this judge from any position of power in perpetuity.

  4. Mississippi Lawyer

    Sadly, other than us lowly criminal defense lawyers, no one in Hinds County much cares about this fiasco. Most of his constituents are happy with him maxing out each and every defendant convicted before him. Doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that sentencing scheme.

      1. Mississippi Lawyer

        Agreed, and we are speaking out about his actions. Unfortunately, the MS Supreme Court is (currently) ignoring the emergency requests by the HCPD’s office to have them stop his actions which is only dragging this issue out longer. Meanwhile, the average citizen only cares that he is “tough on crime” and only a enlightened few see that if he can do this to one group, he can do it to others.

    1. Margaret

      Keep it up! The rest of us criminal defense lawyers around the US support you!

      A sentencing scheme like that deserves trail settings into next century.

  5. Pingback: Miss.S.Ct. orders response in Weil v. HCPD dispute | Jane's Law Blog

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