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Monday at the county courthouse

By By Suzanne Monk
Dec. 18, 2001
The Lauderdale County Circuit Court released a list of indictments Monday afternoon. The list, covering the most recent grand jury session in November, will appear in Wednesday's edition of The Meridian Star.
It takes us a half-day to turn it around for publication because we reorganize the information. The list is issued in case number order; we publish it alphabetically by the kind of crime. This enables you to see right away the relative numbers of violent crimes vs. property crimes, or the ever-increasing number of drug offenses and what kinds of illegal drugs are involved.
It's worth doing, but it takes a little while.
In the meantime, a couple of items caught my attention in Sunday's edition of The Meridian Star, and I thought I would take a minute to comment on them.
Tort reform in Mississippi
The Foundation for the Advancement of Individual Rights took out a full-page ad in Sunday's paper. The headline at the top, "The TRUTH about TORT REFORM" was in 120-point type. This is interesting for a couple of reasons.
The Mississippi State Medical Association is engaged in a lobbying effort to convince state legislators to place caps on punitive damage awards.
Dr. R. Scott Anderson, a local physician, is very vocal in the effort. A story in Friday's paper reported that he and about 400 other Mississippi physicians are scrambling for malpractice insurance because The St. Paul Companies Inc. is pulling out of the state. Anderson said no one has ever filed a malpractice lawsuit against him and he still paid more that $40,000 a year in premiums last year.
In August, The Meridian Star reported that a law firm called Wilkes &McHugh of Tampa, Fla., had targeted Mississippi as its next expansion area. The firm's founder, Jim Wilkes, is known as the "most hated man in the nursing home industry" for winning huge damage awards in wrongful death lawsuits in Florida, California and Arkansas.
Wilkes and other people who oppose punitive damage caps say they wouldn't be winning cases, and millions of dollars in damages, if there wasn't something wrong in the first place. They say the amount of damages should be determined by a trial jury not a state Legislature.
Battle lines are being drawn, and the situation bears watching.
PEER committee looks into juvenile centers
An Associated Press story in Sunday's paper reported that federal investigators and a state legislative PEER panel have agreed to investigate complaints about misconduct by guards and inadequate medical care at two juvenile detention centers in other parts of the state.
This is also a situation that bears watching.
Most of Mississippi's juvenile detention centers do not meet federal guidelines in either construction or operation and it is only a matter of time before an incident occurs at one of them severe enough to bring on the kind of class action lawsuit that resulted in the 1990s boom in prison construction for adult inmates.
But, there are people in Lauderdale County trying to make a difference. Mrs. Velda Roberts is one of them.
A helping hand for children
Putting a human face on the Lauderdale County Courthouse accounts for about 50 percent of everything I write about in this column. I had an easy job of it Monday morning, when I attended a recognition ceremony for Mrs. Velda Roberts.
The brief gathering was the happiest thing I've ever seen happen in the second floor circuit courtroom. Mrs. Roberts was honored by the Lauderdale County Youth Court and "Heart and Hand," a volunteer agency, for her long years of service to children.
Mrs. Roberts' commitment to youth began in 1969, when she went to work for the Mississippi Department of Human Services. After she retired, she took up a challenge to work with Youth Court Judge Frank Coleman's crisis intervention program.
Friends and co-workers presented her with a huge, beautiful vase with an inscription etched in the glass. I can't image what kind of flowers are big enough for it gladiolus and irises, maybe.
Among the people who gathered to honor Mrs. Roberts was her son, Circuit Judge Larry Roberts. Before the ceremony, as his mother waited in the courtroom, his voice could be heard echoing in the hallway, "Where's my mama?"
Decades melted away in a moment, as I suddenly saw the judge as a child. It's not hard he has that kind of face. And, there is something very touching about watching a grown man take his mother's arm as he walks her to the elevator. You should have been there.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at smonk@themeridianstar.com.

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