Legal Bullies? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Legal Bullies?

February 28, 2007

On Feb. 15, Mayor Frank Melton told WJTV that he was going to sue WAPT because they reported that he had violated his probation by conducting a raid on the Upper Level club Feb. 11. "They have willingly and knowingly put information out there, knowing it was incorrect," Melton told WJTV.

WAPT reported that Melton's probation officer, Dennis Grant of Probation Services Company, told the station that he had not given the mayor permission to conduct the raid. Grant has subsequently refused to comment, though he told WAPT that he was preparing a report for Judge Tomie Green.

Neither Grant nor Green returned calls seeking comment.

Whether Grant gave Melton permission, one strike against a Melton lawsuit is that he has already admitted that he called Grant to ask for permission that Saturday afternoon, about 12 hours before he conducted the raid. "I placed a phone call to Rev. Grant earlier Saturday; he told me OK, he said to be careful," Melton told WAPT. However, the terms of Melton's probation require him to ask for permission at least 48 hours in advance.

Melton seems to think that any news organization that fails to take his word has crossed the legal line. "I've told them the information is incorrect. The Fire Department has told them, the Police Department has told them, and they choose to continue to run with it," Melton told WJTV, as if that settles the matter. The question in any legal action ultimately centers on what is true, not on fiats from sources about what they wish was true.

That aside, Melton has threatened lawsuits in the past. In 1993, Melton threatened to sue Mayor Kane Ditto, Police Chief Jimmy Wilson and any news organization that published a police report linking him to Jackson crimes. The report was sent to media anonymously in brown paper envelopes and concerned corruption and other crimes at the Jackson Hinds Youth Detention Center, where four teenage girls told police investigators they had been repeatedly raped by guards. Frank Bluntson, who is a city councilman today, was director of the detention center at the time of the rapes, but District Attorney Ed Peters refused to bring any part of the matter before a grand jury because he claimed the girls had given their consent, though they were minors. Bluntson resigned in exchange for a promise from the city that it would not pursue allegations against him, and months later, he was hired by Peters to work for the DA's office. Joe Jackson, who headed the FBI in Mississippi, refused to investigate the matter and soon retired from the FBI. Just days after his retirement from the FBI, Melton hired Jackson as executive vice president at WLBT, though Jackson had no television experience.

Though the press is entitled to re-publish government documents, the press seemed cowed by Melton's threats, dropping the story without further efforts to prove Melton's innocence or guilt, leaving the unsubstantiated allegations to haunt Melton. More recently, no local media but the Jackson Free Press reported on this history during Bluntson and Melton's 2005 election campaigns.

Reporting on the early '90s scandal did not endear us to Melton, even though he revealed it to Editor Donna Ladd in the first place. In November 2005, he ordered his bodyguards to escort Jackson Free Press reporter Adam Lynch from a public meeting in City Hall, in clear violation of the Open Meetings Act. He said he was justified in removing Lynch because he had a "personal lawsuit" against the JFP, though he had not filed such a suit. Even if he had, this would not give him the right to kick a reporter out of a public meeting. He vowed then that the JFP would be out of business "in six months." On June 28, 2006, Melton went into a rage upon seeing the cover of that week's JFP, which critiqued Melton's first year in office with a depiction of him bursting out of a birthday cake. Once again, Melton threatened to sue the JFP—he did not explain what the basis of that suit would be—and again vowed that we would be out of business in six months.

Eight months later, the JFP's circulation continues to grow. Meanwhile, Melton has pled guilty to weapons misdemeanors and faces five felony counts for his alleged role in demolishing a duplex on Ridgeway Street—a story first reported by the Jackson Free Press.

Meanwhile, Melton attorney Dale Danks has sent a letter threatening sanctions against Kim Wade (PDF, 309 KB) for his petition to have Melton removed from office. Wade's Feb. 16 complaint (PDF, 200 KB), which was first reported online at jacksonfreepress.com, calls for Melton's removal under Article 6, Section 175, of the Mississippi Constitution. On Feb. 21, Danks wrote that Wade's complaint was frivolous, groundless and vexatious. Danks did not describe in detail the reasons why he believed so, though he advised Wade to seek legal advice on his standing.

"Notice is hereby given," Danks wrote, "that unless you do not voluntarily dismiss the Complaint … I shall have no alternative but to seek all available remedies, including attorney's fees and sanctions."

Danks did not return calls.

Mississippi College of Law professor Matt Steffey said that Danks may have a point. "On its face, I don't think it's well-grounded procedurally or substantively," Steffey said. He explained that Wade's complaint misinterprets how the Constitution uses the word "misdemeanor." Even if Wade is right, Steffey said, he still has no standing to bring such a motion. "If anyone has the standing to do this, it's a government official, certainly not a private citizen.

Danks wrote that he does not send such letters as a matter of routine, but legal sources tell the Jackson Free Press that such letters are commonplace in lawsuits. Still, Steffey said that his instinct is that the lawsuit is frivolous. "I wouldn't be surprised if he filed it pro se because he couldn't find a lawyer to file it. … That said, is there some quirky legal consideration that makes Kim Wade a strategic genius? Maybe."

CORRECTION: This story originally said that Melton had his bodyguards eject Adam Lynch from a meeting in November 2004. It should have said November 2005, and has been corrected in the copy.

Previous Comments

ID
172703
Comment

That aside, Melton has threatened lawsuits in the past. In 1993, Melton threatened to sue Mayor Kane Ditto, Police Chief Jimmy Wilson and any news organization that published a police report linking him to Jackson crimes. The report was sent to media anonymously in brown paper envelopes and concerned corruption and other crimes at the Jackson Hinds Youth Detention Center, where four teenage girls told police investigators they had been repeatedly raped by guards. Frank Bluntson, who is a city councilman today, was director of the detention center at the time of the rapes, but District Attorney Ed Peters refused to bring any part of the matter before a grand jury because he claimed the girls had given their consent, though they were minors. Bluntson resigned in exchange for a promise from the city that it would not pursue allegations against him, and months later, he was hired by Peters to work for the DA's office. Joe Jackson, who headed the FBI in Mississippi, refused to investigate the matter and soon retired from the FBI. Just days after his retirement from the FBI, Melton hired Jackson as executive vice president at WLBT, though Jackson had no television experience. Just wanted people to read this again....

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-28T19:38:30-06:00
ID
172704
Comment

"On Feb. 15, Mayor Frank Melton told WJTV that he was going to sue WAPT because they reported that he had violated his probation by conducting a raid on the Upper Level club Feb. 11. "They have willingly and knowingly put information out there, knowing it was incorrect," Melton told WJTV. "I never shredded those requests...." FMelton "I am a trained law enforcement officer........." FMelton "I have a permit to carry a gun......" FMelton "If I could just get 8 hours' work out of the police officers I have then we would not need to hire any more......." FMelton "Elect me; I can get rid of crime in 90 days (or six months, take your pick)." FMelton Ironic he would accuse others of 'willingly and knowingly put information out there'. And one last one: Anyone else remember the smirking TV news interview saying: "Its a shame what happened to that house" (referring to the Ridgeway St. duplex)?

Author
ChrisCavanaugh
Date
2007-02-28T20:01:19-06:00
ID
172705
Comment

the city's king has devoted city time, city money, and city officers to chase "criminals" that were once his boys and now have broken rank. case in point Vidal Sullivan, Wood Street gang, and believe it or not the fella from the upper lever was once his "little boy" Something is real wrong with this picture

Author
sistergirl
Date
2007-02-28T23:13:23-06:00
ID
172706
Comment

I wonder how many times the JFP will be sued by Frank for publishing this article.

Author
golden eagle '97
Date
2007-03-01T15:21:03-06:00
ID
172707
Comment

Hopefully none since we are recounting facts that are part of the public record, and that he has discussed with us. Honestly, I haven't seen evidence that he *files* frivolous lawsuits. And, of course, this article actually Danks up a bit on the Kim Wade end of things.

Author
ladd
Date
2007-03-01T15:25:16-06:00
ID
172708
Comment

I bet he's gonna sue someone after today!

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-03-01T19:25:27-06:00
ID
172709
Comment

I'm sooo glad that JFP has re-visited the 90's scandal! Hopefully Frank M. is on his way out, but what about the allegations about Bluntson??? He's a Councilman, for Pete's Sake!! I believe that the '93 scandal was so well covered up by the main stream media that the majority of folks are still unaware of it. Please JFP, continue to make this an issue, naming names...Ed Peters, Joe Jackson, Mr. Melton,and Councilman BLUNTSON!

Author
JAR
Date
2007-03-03T03:04:32-06:00

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