Singing River Health

Judge removes himself from select SRHS cases

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD/2015 
 Judge Breland Hilburn listens to attorneys during court in June. Hilburn recused himself from some SRHS cases on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD/2015 Judge Breland Hilburn listens to attorneys during court in June. Hilburn recused himself from some SRHS cases on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 SUN HERALD

Chancery Judge Breland Hilburn has resigned from presiding over cases filed by attorneys Earl Denham and Harvey Barton against Singing River Health System, but will remain on cases at least two other law firms have filed against SRHS, according to a court order.

Hilburn said he was resigning, or recusing himself, because the attorneys have questioned his impartiality.

"After due consideration," he wrote in his recusal order, "it is the finding of the court that there is now a question as to whether the court can maintain an impartiality in presiding over the above-styled cases."

It lists six cases filed by Barton and Denham, who had called for his recusal.

The state Supreme Court appointed Hilburn to hear lawsuits filed over the county health system's failed retirement plan because Jackson County chancellors were unable to serve. Hilburn is still presiding over SRHS cases filed by Jim Reeves of Biloxi and Cal Mayo of Oxford.

"I'm appreciative that he recused himself, but I'm not satisfied," Barton said Thursday afternoon. "He should have done it on all the cases. He doesn't need to be involved in this litigation."

Barton said he and Denham, who represent about 200 pension members, plan to ask the Supreme Court to remove Hilburn from all the cases.

Denham and Barton had asked Hilburn to remove himself, saying he could not be impartial. Hilburn had cancelled a hearing on the request, but the Supreme Court ordered him to hold it after Barton and Denham objected.

Instead, Hilburn denied Barton and Denham's recusal request without a hearing.

"He's trying to circumvent us to keep us from having a hearing," Barton said. He said the Supreme Court appeal would detail the reasons Hilburn should be removed from all SRHS cases.

Denham and Barton disagree with the way the SRHS cases are proceeding under Hilburn's supervision. They want an extensive pretrial investigation, including review of SRHS documents and testimony from county and hospital officials, to find out who was responsible for the pension plan's failure.

Instead, Hilburn has made it clear he thinks a mass settlement in federal court is the way to proceed.

Reeves is the lead attorney for vested pension-plan members in a proposed class-action settlement of claims against SRHS.

Reeves said in a statement Thursday: "Judge Hilburn has done an outstanding job in the very difficult Singing River litigation. We believe that of the 20-30 attorneys who have appeared before him on this matter all would agree -- save two."

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