Jackson County

SRHS judge defies state Supreme Court order by not holding hearing

Singing River Hospital
Singing River Hospital

PASCAGOULA -- SRHS Judge Breland Hilburn decided not to hold a hearing as ordered by the state Supreme Court on whether he should step down from the county hospital pension case.

He also decided not to step down.

On Jan. 28, the state Supreme Court ordered him to conduct a hearing, and one was set for Friday. But Hilburn canceled the hearing and issued an order saying he found no reason for him and Special Master Britt Singletary to step down.

The request that he and Singletary step down came from attorneys Earl Denham and Harvey Barton, who are representing about 200 of the retirees in lawsuits against Singing River Health System over its failed pension plan.

In the order, Hilburn said he chose to support the federal mediation and class action instead of "aggressive litigation against SRHS" by Denham and Barton and that displeased the two attorneys, who then asked him to step down.

Hilburn said he doesn't see a factual basis in their claim or a reason for him or Singletary to step down, so he is denying their motions.

He said, if Denham and Barton appeal and the appeals court finds a reason for him to step down, "then I am prepared to comply with the court's order."

He also pointed out that none of the other 25-30 attorneys in the Chancery Court case joined Denham and Barton's motion asking him or Singletary to step down.

Barton told the Sun Herald after Hilburn's order came out, "with all the evidence that we know ... I can understand why he wouldn't want to have a hearing."

He said that while they would have liked to have had a hearing where they would be able to present evidence and call witnesses for the record, "now we can tell the state Supreme Court the facts of the case, even if we don't have people under oath."

Barton said Hilburn not only met with SRHS and other attorneys in the case outside the courtroom before issuing an order to stop all litigation on SRHS in Chancery Court, but he also signed orders to make sure Singletary, plan manager Steven Simpson and his attorney were paid out of the pension trust before litigation stopped.

"There was no hearing, no opportunity to object," Barton said.

He said he and Denham continue oppose the proposed federal settlement because "it was not fairly negotiated, with people being allowed to object to it."

He said, "It's a good deal for everyone except the retirees."

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