Hancock County

Bay St. Louis businessman avoids jail time



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BAY ST. LOUIS -- The city prosecutor agreed Monday to conditionally dismiss a case against businessman and former county supervisor candidate Jeff Harding, who was charged with disorderly conduct during a heated City Council meeting in 2015.

According to Hancock County Circuit Court records, Harding agreed to a pretrial diversion program that will dismiss his case after a year as long as he is not charged with any other crimes other than routine traffic violations.

"We have been dealing with this matter at least for a year now," Harding's attorney Chris Johnson said. "We never believed he was guilty of anything, and he has never admitted guilt to anything."

At a City Council meeting April 28, Harding was accused of making an obscene gesture toward a councilman.

Harding pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge in Bay St. Louis Municipal Court, at which point Judge Steven Maggio sentenced him to 180 days in jail, with 150 days suspended, leaving Harding with 30 days to serve and a $500 fine.

Johnson said the no-contest plea was part of his defense strategy to have the case moved to circuit court.

The circuit court's diversion order nullifies Maggio's sentence, which Harding called "harsh."

City Prosecutor Donald Rafferty could not be reached for comment.