It was a most unique scene Tuesday afternoon in the Second Judicial Circuit courtroom in Gulfport.
A bailiff entered and ordered all to rise as court was in session.
All rose and in walked all four Circuit Court Judges; Roger Clark, Lawrence Bourgeois, Lisa Dodson and Christopher Schmidt.
Experienced court watchers and numerous current and former court employees said it was the first time in memory all four judges had sat the bench at the same time.
They were gathered to conduct a hearing on a citation to show cause issued to Stone County Circuit Clerk Jeffery O’Neal.
O’Neal was being given the opportunity to “. . . to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court for his failure to prepare orders of disposition, preparing and transmitting commitment papers to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, and/or posting the Court’s orders to the MEC system.”
Clark opened the proceedings.
“[We are here] because there are numerous cases in Stone County which have been resolved in court,” he said. “Procedures have not been followed by the clerk’s office in Stone County.
“Mr. O’Neal, we want to know why you should not be held in contempt of court.”
O’Neal, in a shaky voice, immediately admitted his wrongdoing.
“I’m guilty, your honor,” he said. “It was my responsibility to make sure it was done and it was not done. “I can’t blame anybody but myself.”
Dodson told O’Neal his failure to process the paperwork had been problematic for the entire judicial circuit.
“This has caused an issue throughout the entire system,” she said. “Sheriffs have people in custody and they can’t do anything with them if the orders and commitments are not done.
“What’s in place to make sure it gets done?”
O’Neal said he was trying to hire a lady with legal training, prompting the court to credit deputy clerk June O’Neal for her efforts to bring the paperwork up to date.
“This is not a reflection on June O’Neal,” Clark stressed.
Dodson asked O’Neal for a specific file, which he produced from among three bankers boxes of files he had brought with him.
She also asked if the files he had managed to get done had been entered in the Mississippi Electronic Court [MEC] system.
“They’re not in MEC,” he answered.
MEC is a database judges, clerks and attorneys can utilize to retrieve court records.
O’Neal said his deputy clerks who had MEC training were no longer employed and he had requested training from MEC for his newest deputy.
The judges recessed and returned, telling O’Neal he had partially purged himself of contempt by getting some of the work completed and by admitting his own responsibility in the matter.
They told him to submit a report detailing progress Nov. 2 and scheduled another hearing for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 13. In the Harrison County courtroom.
Running for reelection in the Nov. 5 general election, O’Neal has now been brought before the court to show cause why he should not be held in contempt twice this year.
In June, he filed financial reports for 2016 and 2017 that had been demanded by the State Auditor’s office.
That brought a reprieve on that contempt charge.