Stone County

Four judges have summoned Stone County’s circuit clerk to court and they are not happy

Stone County Circuit Clerk Jeffrey O’Neal is in trouble again — this time with the four Circuit Court judges whose cases files he is supposed to be managing.

The judges have ordered him to appear before them at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Gulfport courthouse to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court for failing to file sentencing, probation and commitment orders in at least 36 cases.

A footnote to the judge’s order says the number of cases listed does not include all cases where they are unable to locate orders or other court filings.

The paperwork is important because a written order signed by the judge supersedes the sentence the judge announces in court. Such orders spell out crucial details about a defendant’s sentence and, in the case of probation, multiple conditions a criminal must abide by when he or she is released.

Inmates can’t be processed into the state prison sentence until MDOC receives sentencing orders. Orders sent to MDOC also identify criminals by name, age, sex, race and other details.

MDOC spokeswoman Grace Fisher said the orders are like all the ingredients of a cake and serve as “a framework for building an individual’s record in the prison system.”

Fisher said, “Because we’re not in the courtroom, we have to rely on something and that sentencing order is what we rely on.”

Judges Roger Clark, Lisa Dodson, Larry Bourgeois and Christopher Schmidt signed the order for O’Neal to appear before them. He has not responded to a telephone call from the Sun Herald.

O’Neal was last ordered to court in June for failing to file annual reports but the case was dismissed after he promised to catch up on the paperwork that shows the money his office took in and paid out. Circuit clerks are fee-paid officials whose salaries are paid from the money they collect.

O’Neal is up for reelection Nov. 5. He is running as an independent against former Deputy Circuit Clerk Treba Parker Davis, a Republican.

Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.
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