Judge Richard McKenzie stopped short of sanctioning a defense lawyer after she went on Facebook to dispute evidence in the manslaughter case of former George County jail nurse Carmon Brannan.
"I never sanctioned any lawyer, but I'm fairly close," McKenzie, a judge for more than 27 years, told defense attorney Mary Lee Holmes during a pre-trial hearing this month.
Instead, the judge issued issued a gag order that prevents Holmes or any other defense attorney or prosecutor from commenting on the case.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence asked for the sanctions against Holmes for ethical violations.
In the social media posts on Facebook, Holmes disputed allegations in the case, shared exhibits and other evidence and disputed information about a surveillance video from the George County jail of insulin-dependent jail detainee William Joel Dixon.
Brannan is accused of causing Dixon's Sept. 14, 2017, death by withholding the insulin he needed to live.
After the judge issued the gag order, he told Holmes "if it happens again, I will impose sanctions."
In personal Facebook messages to someone connected to Dixon, Holmes talked about an investigative file that couldn't be found in Dixon's case. She also questioned whether Dixon had agreed to take his insulin.
The woman she sent a message to fired back, saying, "Where is the form he signed giving permission for his meds the last time, you remember the one from September of 2014 from when he was killed?"
The woman demanded that Holmes quit communicating with her.
"What a disgrace," the woman wrote. "A criminal fighting for one. You should be disbarred to say the least."
Holmes later apologized for reaching out to the woman.
"I feel terribly sorry for his family," Holmes said. "I'm not trying to be mean and I'm sorry for reaching out. My only point was that none of us were there. Joel had a history of not taking his insulin just like he refused the ER when his blood sugar was 454 in March 2014."
In another exchange, Holmes said, "Not a single person testified she (Brannan) withheld his insulin. Not a single person testified he even asked for his insulin."
Holmes also questioned Dixon's character and drug use.
In another exchange, she told the woman, "You know nothing about me ma'am or what you're side-stepping to and the truth behind that which you try to side to."
The woman again told Holmes to stop contacting her..
"Now, leave me alone," the woman told Holmes. "Do not contact me again, ever!!"
Lawrence questioned whether the defense attorney's actions were accidental because she's faced a public admonishment before in another criminal case.
Holmes is representing Brannan in her second trial for manslaughter in Dixon's death. The trial is set for July in Vicksburg.
Her first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked in an 11-1 vote to convict Brannan.
She'd faced sanctions before
Holmes had her first-run with a judge in 2017.
In that case, Judge Keith Starrett admonished Holmes for allegations in a motion she filed in a criminal case. He sanctioned the attorney and fined her $5,000 for her actions.
In that case, the judge issued the sanctions after Holmes filed a motion in a criminal case that accused prosecutors of "defrauding the court" and accused Starrett of "deep seeded prejudice" against the suspect in the case. Holmes withdrew the motion the next day, but it was too little too late for the judge.
Though Holmes had only recently began practicing law at the time and despite an apology for her action, the judge chose to impose sanctions against Holmes.
An illegal meeting?
During the hearing in May, other information came to light, including a meeting Holmes and her father, Paul H. "Bud" Holmes, had with four George County supervisors to discuss the criminal case and the county's desire to settle any civil litigation before the trial.
When Lawrence learned of the meeting, he went off, noting the meeting between the defense attorneys and four supervisors was an illegal meeting since more than three supervisors came together. He demanding records from the illegal meeting to include any recordings or minutes.
"In 15 years, I have never had the George County supervisors involved in a criminal prosecution," Lawrence said. "It troubles me to learn they are meeting with defense attorneys. I think it was a meeting. There were four others (supervisors) present.
Brannan was the lone registered nurse at the George County jail when Joel Dixon died.
Prosecutors said she repeatedly attributed Dixon's failing health to drug withdrawals because he had admitted to smoking up to 2 grams of meth a day for six months leading up to his Sept. 17, 2014, arrest in Lucedale.
Witnesses at the jail said at the first trial that Joel Dixon had been unable to eat for days before his death.
On the morning of Dixon's death, Brannan said he was conscious and "sitting" when she checked in on him. Surveillance video shows Brannan peeked through the window of his jail cell for less than two seconds before moving on to something else.
Dixon's family claims insulin was brought to the jail for him in addition to a Lucedale police office picking up more insulin out of Dixon's car and bringing it back to the jail.