Connect with us

Magnolia Tribune

Experts have serious concerns about Mississippi’s public defender system



Experts suggest Mississippi is failing to satisfy its Sixth Amendment duty to provide access to counsel for indigent defendants, costing counties millions and putting the civil rights of thousands in jeopardy.

Andre de Gruy speaks rapidly. The native turned Mississippi son is a man on a mission to change the world, or at least his home state. For the last eight years, he's served as State Public Defender.

His journey in representing the interest of people who often lack advocates goes back further.

In 2001, de Gruy founded the Office of Capital Defense Counsel, where he served to ensure people facing the ultimate punishment were not deprived of an adequate defense.

André de Gruy, State Public Defender for Mississippi.

People like de Gruy fill thankless voids in the justice system. It is easy to dismiss someone accused of a as bad, or to assume guilt. Giving aid to people in that position does not always make a lawyer popular.

But in any system where the government has the ability to deprive someone of their liberty, or even their , access to qualified counsel is important to ensuring a fair trial and that the evidence supports the accusation, according to de Gruy.

“It's a government responsibility, it's a function of government, that we have to provide lawyers and that should be done like any other government service in the most efficient and effective way as possible,” de Gruy explained. “That's why it's important to include indigent defense in any criminal justice reform, it's a constitutional mandate.”


Scott Peyton, the Mississippi Director for Right on Crime, agrees with de Gruy. He told Magnolia Tribune that public defenders ensure that the fundamental due process principle of “innocent until proven guilty” applies to every Mississippian, not only those who can afford to finance their own defense.

Mississippi's Decentralized System

To a large degree, de Gruy's hands are tied.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution creates a right to the assistance of counsel for any one charged with a crime. In the 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment requires states to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who cannot otherwise afford one.

Mississippi created the State Public Defender office in 2011, but much of the responsibility for ensuring the constitutional right to counsel is satisfied falls on local courts. This is because Mississippi's system for providing an attorney is much more decentralized than other states. Public defenders here are largely appointed directly by the local courts in which they practice.


David Carroll, Executive Director of the Sixth Amendment Center, said the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution obligates states, not local governments, to ensure effective representation under the Sixth Amendment.

“And that's the big glaring thing, there is no structure in to provide oversight, set standards, and figure out if the counties and municipalities are in fact meeting the Sixth Amendment or not,” explained Carroll. He referenced a 2018 Sixth Amendment Center Report, that found that many of the counties and municipalities are not meeting their constitutional requirements.

“I don't want to make it seem like all of Mississippi is bleak, but the trial level in particular is very very problematic,” Carroll said. “When you look at neighboring states, I think you're going to find a significant difference in what's in other states versus what's happening in Mississippi.”

Surrounding States

De Gruy explains that in Mississippi, neither the for, nor the provision of public defenders, is centralized. Jurisdictions all have their own idiosyncrasies.


The four surrounding states all deliver services differently: Arkansas has a public defender commission that employs all defenders and staff and provides for conflict counsel with 100% state funding. Tennessee elects public defenders and has near 100% state funding (two counties maintain offices that existed at time of their reforms), such that the public defender system mirrors the system for prosecutors. Alabama has 100% state funding administered through their Department of Finance and Administration, with local advisory boards.

He points to our surrounding states as examples of more unified systems. “When you look at our surrounding states, the main difference is with the funding is primarily, or at least 50% state funding and the rest local funding, and there's state level standards or oversight so there's more of a consistency across those states as to what kind of representation,” de Gruy said.

“Alabama and Arkansas, the main difference is they are 100% state funded. Now some of the funds may come from fees, but to me it's all state money, it's all tax dollars, it's all public funds regardless of whether it comes through taxes or not,” de Gruy said. “Those two systems are 100% state funded systems and Arkansas, they have district defender offices just like district attorney offices and then they have a central office that's governed by a board of director that's appointed, I think, by the Governor.”

“When you look at our surrounding states, the main difference is with the funding. It's primarily, or at least 50%, state funding. There's state level standards or oversight, so there's more of a consistency across those states,” de Gruy explained. Another key factor is how public defenders are selected to serve.


Arkansas has a public defender commission that employs all defenders and staff and provides for conflict counsel with 100% state funding. Tennessee elects public defenders, the same way prosecutors are elected. It has near 100% state funding. Alabama has 100% state funding administered through their Department of Finance and Administration, with local advisory boards.

Deficiencies in the System

The Sixth Amendment Center's report identified a number of deficiencies in Mississippi's current system. One perceived fault is that it creates dual loyalty for an attorney. Attorneys are obligated to provide a zealous defense to their client's interest. In a system where the presiding judge appoints the attorney, that attorney may be disinclined to push the envelope for their client for fear of getting on the court's bad side and risking future appointments.

The Sixth Amendment Center also contends that payment structures provide disincentive for lawyers to put in the work necessary to offer effective assistance to their clients. With limited payment for their work, the incentive to attorneys is to not spend too much time on their clients cases, and instead to take on a higher volume of cases.

“Because it's all pushed down to local governments, and local governments have different revenue bases and needs and number of people qualifying, most of the poor counties choose what is called a flat fee contract model, in which the court or the county will contract with a private defense attorney and say ‘you handle all the cases in my court room.' The problem with that is it incentives the lawyer to do as little work on the case as possible,” Carroll explained.


“If you're being paid the same amount whether you put a lot of effort into the case or as little as possible, not that every lawyer will make this choice, but there will be lawyers that make a choice to pocket as much money by getting rid of cases as quickly as possible.”

In 2018, at the time the report was published, only seven of Mississippi's 82 counties had established full-time public defender offices. Only 12 counties in the state provide representation to indigent felony defendants exclusively through appointed private attorneys who are paid an hourly rate.

The “Dead Zone”

Another problem that has appeared within the public defender system is a gap in representation between the time of preliminary hearing and indictment. Cliff Johnson of the MacArthur Justice Institute coined this period as the “dead zone.”

The impact of the dead zone is that people sit in jail for extended periods of time before being indicted with no access to counsel. MacArthur released a study last year that found there were more than 5,800 people incarcerated in Mississippi's county jails. 2,716 of those detainees have been in jail longer than 90 days. More than 1,000 have been detained at least nine months. 731 have been stuck in county jail over a year.

Duane Lake stands for a portrait outside the abandoned Coahoma County Jail in Clarksdale, Mississippi on Jan. 10, 2022. Rory Doyle/MCIR

One example MacArthur points to is Duane Lake. Lake was in 2015 for a double homicide–an obviously serious offense. He sat in jail for two years without access to counsel while he awaited an indictment. His trial did not occur until 2021, at which time he was acquitted of the charges and released. But Lake had spent a total of six years in jail by the time he had his day in court. In the meantime, he lost his wife and his job.

MacArthur has estimated that the total annual cost to counties for incarcerating individuals pre-trial is over $90 million, a figure which they believe could be dramatically reduced by giving people access to counsel to fight for reduced bail and push for the speedy trials guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment.

On April 13, 2023, the Mississippi Supreme Court approved a new rule of criminal procedure that requires that an indigent defendant have access to continuous representation criminal defendants who can't afford their own attorney must always have one before an indictment.

While the rule creates a mandate, both Carroll and Right on Crime's Scott Peyton expressed concern about implementation.

“To ensure justice, and prevent unnecessary costs, Mississippi must adequately fund the public defender system to ensure that it operates with the necessary bandwidth, training, and resources,” Peyton continued. “Inadequate support and training leads to what we are facing in Mississippi today, defendants languishing in jails for prolonged periods of time. This does little to support public safety.”


Carroll said without any state agency spot-checking against standards, his guess is that there won't be a lot of change until counties and municipalities are forced to deal with the rule change.

“Next Step” Plan for the Mississippi Public Defender System

In 2015, a task force was created by the to examine Mississippi's Public Defender system. The task force worked closely with the Sixth Amendment Center for three years. In 2018, it released a Final Report and Recommendations for the Legislature.

The Task Force recommended a stronger state-level body that can set objective standards and monitor local public defenders to ensure compliance. For this purpose, they suggested the creation of a commission. For selection of public defenders, they recommended a move away from court appointed defenders to a “district defender” model that would mirror each circuit court's district attorney office. Finally, they suggested that the state and local governments share the cost of the public defender system.

To date, the Legislature has not heeded any of these recommendations. De Gruy says that the Office of State Public Defender continues to support the recommendations of the task force, but he's taking baby steps given the Legislature's reluctance.


The OSPD submitted a plan as the “next step” in of a statewide public defender system to ensure Constitutional compliance in a fiscally efficient manner.

“This proposal differs from the Mississippi Public Defender Task Force proposal and Sixth Amendment Center recommendations in three significant ways. It does NOT establish a state commission, create district defender offices, nor amend existing statutory authorizations for county public defender offices,” the plan states.

“We believe that a more modest “next step” is more feasible,” the plan continued.

The submitted proposal for “next steps” would allow OSPD to provide representation in any matter in which there is a constitutional right to counsel and tasks OSPD with promulgating practice standards subject to approval by the Supreme Court.


“We think the next step is to get statewide standards and we've been pushing this for a few years in the Legislature,” de Gruy said. “This past year in H.B. 840, we had a really simple change to the OSPD authority. We were asking for a change that would allow us to in cases beyond the death penalty cases.”

“We passed 115-0 in the House and we didn't make it out of committee in the Senate, so we've got work to do on the Senate side next session,” de Gruy continued.

Disclaimer: Russ Latino, founder of the Magnolia Tribune Institute, filed the motion with the Mississippi Supreme Court to change the rules of criminal procedure to ensure that criminal defendants had continuity of representation. In April, the Court adopted the rule.

The post Experts have serious concerns about Mississippi's public defender system appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.


Read More

By: Anne Summerhays
Title: Experts have serious concerns about Mississippi's public defender system

Published Date: Tue, 23 May 2023 13:58:56 +0000


Magnolia Tribune

Incrementalism will neither defeat Russia nor deter China



Thus far, we have told the Ukrainians not to bring the war home to the Russians. It is high time President Biden and Congress change their tune. 

On May 22-23, the “Russian Volunteer Corps” and the “ Russia Legion” crossed from Ukraine into Belgorod Oblast, Russia. These two groups are allegedly comprised of Russian citizens aligned with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. These groups allegedly used American Humvees and M1224 MaxxPro MRAPs as part of their operation. This temporary incursion was embarrassing for Moscow.

Upon our discovery, White House National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby stated that “we have again made it very clear to the Ukrainians what our expectations are about attacking Russia – we don't want to encourage or enable that, we certainly don't want any US-made equipment used to attack Russian soil.”

This may be pro forma; however, I believe that the Biden Administration and are continuing down the same trodden path of “red lines” and “fear of provoking Russia” that has permeated our government since the start of this war. Thus far, we have told the Ukrainians not to bring the war home to the Russians. It is high time and Congress change their tune. 

If our goal is for Ukraine to militarily defeat and expel Moscow, President Biden, Congress, and the Department of must explicitly say so – rather than the current ambiguity that pervades the majority of both political parties. It is this lack of articulation and incremental approach to hard aid that will drag on this war and potentially create another “frozen conflict” (e.g. Transnistria) in the post-Soviet space. A “freezing” of the conflict via a ceasefire would benefit Russia and China. The Chinese special representative, Li Hui, attempted to push a ceasefire “before conflict spreads beyond Ukraine” and promote European security without America – a not so subtle attempt to create rifts in the Alliance. Rather, we need a clear statement of purpose: the military defeat of Russia by Ukraine.  

Last year, we said “no tanks” as it would provoke Russia. This month, we said “yes” to tanks. Up until last , we said “no fighter jets” as it would provoke Russia. Now, we have agreed to not only train Ukrainian pilots to fly American F-16s, but also allow our NATO allies to their F-16s to Ukraine. Let us not continue this incrementalism.


The July 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania will be the opportune moment to put an end to ambiguity and incrementalism. Specifically, the U.S. should announce that we are providing not only F-16s, but also the long-range missiles that have thus far been denied: the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).

During the Vilnius Summit, we must also boldly proclaim with our Eastern flank allies: Ukraine's rightful place is in NATO. From a purely geo-strategic perspective, Ukrainian membership protects NATO-member Poland who has been arming itself to the teeth and turns the Black Sea into a virtual NATO lake, similar to the Baltic Sea with Finland's April 2023 accession (and hopefully soon, Sweden). NATO from Ukraine's battlefield experience against Russia and Ukraine will never again go it alone with Article 5 protection, a proven deterrent (i.e. Baltic States lacking a “special military operation”).      

There can be no special formats, councils, or other security arrangements – Kyiv must be granted a Membership Action Plan that to full membership in the Alliance once the war ends. There will be folks who argue this will “provoke Russia” or “prevent peace.” It's the same ole song and dance of those who have yet to learn anything from this conflict.

Let's the Ukrainians with the tools they need to secure their and defend the democratic world. A defeated Russia would assuredly also serve as a deterrent to our other geo-political enemy: the People's Republic of China. American security interests and liberty are served with NATO and a victorious Ukraine.       


The post Incrementalism will neither defeat Russia nor deter China appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.

Read More

By: Matthew Becker
Title: Incrementalism will neither defeat Russia nor deter China

Published Date: Tue, 30 May 2023 18:35:00 +0000

Continue Reading

Magnolia Tribune

Gunasekara files appeal with U.S. Supreme Court seeking to remain on the ballot



A candidate for Northern District Public Service Commissioner continues her fight to be on the Republican Primary ballot in August after losing a residency challenge before the Mississippi Supreme Court earlier this month.

Mandy Gunasekara, a Republican seeking the position Northern District Public Service Commissioner seat, was from the ballot earlier this month. The move came after the upheld a ruling in Hinds County that deemed her ineligible based on a five-year residency requirement.  

Gunasekara says she is a seventh generation Mississippian. She has worked multiple times in Washington, D.C. in various roles with Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2017, she received an appointment from the Trump White House to be a senior advisor at the EPA, ultimately serving as the agency's chief of staff. Gunasekara has indicated that she was commuting back-and-forth to Mississippi during this period.

READ MORE: Mississippi Supreme Court issues ruling on Gunasekara, Jones eligibility

Gunasekara said at the time of her removal from the ballot on May 11th that voters deserved a ruling on the merits of the case. She cited the potential unconstitutionality of the residency provision and went on to say that she was assessing all legal options, which included an appeal to the .

That appeal was docketed at the nation's highest court on May 26th.

, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito requested that Matthew Barton, the initial challenger of Gunasekara's residency, file a response to the Court by noon on June 5th.


Barton, a candidate for District Attorney in DeSoto County, first brought the before the Mississippi Republican State Executive Committee where it was dismissed. Barton then filed an appeal, prompting court action in Hinds County.

Both Barton and the Mississippi Republican Executive Committee are named in the latest appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Mississippi Republican Executive Committee only entered an appearance in the Mississippi Supreme Court's proceeding. The committee did not participate in any other way, leaving Barton as the respondent.

“It's absurd that after I've lived here for the majority of my , a local judge decided I'm not Mississippi enough to for the Public Service Commission in the northern district. As currently applied, the is unconstitutional and an affront to the men and women of Mississippi who deserve the to vote for a qualified, constitutional conservative,” Gunasekara said in a statement sent to Magnolia Tribune. “That's why I'm taking this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, and I appreciate Justice Alito's swift response on my request.”

Gunasekara is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay of the Mississippi Supreme Court's order. She says it is necessary because it will prevent irreparable harm, will not substantially injure other parties in the interim, and will serve the public interest.


She also notes that the stay will not harm Barton as he is not a candidate in the PSC race.

Ultimately, Gunasekara seeks an injunction from the Court pending appeal that instructs the Mississippi Secretary of State to include her as a candidate for Northern District Public Service Commissioner on the primary election ballot which is set for August 8th.

There are two Republican candidates currently remaining in the Northern PSC race – Tanner Newman and State Rep. Chris Brown. No Democrat filed to run for the seat being vacated by Brandon Presley who decided to run for Governor in 2023. Presley has served on the Public Service Commission for four terms.



You can read the full appeal filed by Gunasekara at the U.S. Supreme Court below.

The post Gunasekara files appeal with U.S. Supreme Court seeking to remain on the ballot appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.

Read More


By: Sarah Ulmer
Title: Gunasekara files appeal with U.S. Supreme Court seeking to remain on the ballot

Published Date: Tue, 30 May 2023 18:00:18 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading

Magnolia Tribune

Tech Innovation is Important for Mississippi’s Students



Mississippi is contributing to the wave of American innovation that is sweeping the economy and tapping into its unique resources that advance opportunities for those entering the workforce.

It's graduation time, and I can't help but think about our duty to foster the innovative potential that our possess. Mississippi is a perfect place to do just that. With a strong , dedicated workforce, and commitment to being open for business, the Magnolia has it all.

Upon graduation, students are met with many potential career paths, in Mississippi's burgeoning tech sector. In fact, in the past few years Mississippi has increasingly been considered a new tech hub.

The of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi, and Jackson State University are working to advance the state's strong technology programs through the Mississippi Research Consortium. This initiative harnesses the collective strength of Mississippi's students to set our state up for economic in our increasingly tech-savvy world. Programs at all of our universities, colleges, community colleges, and K-12 schools now focus on new skills for our students.

Much of this has been made possible thanks to homegrown American tech companies that have fostered the growth of small businesses across our state. These companies have brought multi-million-dollar investments and to Mississippi. and accessible tools and services offered by these companies allow those with great ideas to make their ideas a reality. In fact, small businesses that take advantage of these tools are five times more likely to reach new customers and three times more likely to experience customer growth.

That's why it's concerning that potential legislation and pending lawsuits would target American tech companies for their success. These efforts aim to break up companies that are supporting the industries that our students rely on for a secure economic future.


Further, they open up our economy to national security threats and economic interference from foreign actors like China and TikTok. Punishing these companies would force our state economy – and, in turn, our students and future workers – to pay the price.

Instead, we should celebrate the possibilities that these companies have provided us with and speak out against policies that would work to take away these opportunities. We should lean into the future and work to our skilled, growing workforce with new and exciting careers.

These American companies have set the pace for creating jobs, driving investments, and sponsoring research across the country, and I'm proud that our state has taken up the call. Mississippi is contributing to the wave of American innovation that is sweeping the economy and tapping into its unique resources that advance opportunities for those entering the workforce.

What once seemed light-years away is now a reality for the next generation. It's our job to and nurture that.


The post Tech Innovation is Important for Mississippi's Students appeared first on Magnolia Tribune.

Read More

By: Pat Fontaine
Title: Tech Innovation is Important for Mississippi's Students

Published Date: Tue, 30 May 2023 13:31:11 +0000


Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading