Mississippi Judge John Shirley resigned in disgrace after he kept an impoverished mother from her baby for 14 months — all because the mother couldn't afford to pay court fees.
Just like the Republican Party as a whole, it seems some conservative judges need a reminder about what “family values” actually means.
One such judge in Mississippi apparently saw no contradiction between the “conservative values” he purports to care about and separating an impoverished mother from her infant child for 14 months — for no reason other than some unpaid misdemeanor court fees.
Pearl Youth Court Judge John Shirley learned quickly how wrong he was, as he was forced to resign in disgrace when this case came to light. And it’s not hard to see why.
In August 2016, the mother, along with her baby, was traveling through the area with a friend as they looked for employment. The driver was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, and during the stop, the police officer discovered that both women had outstanding warrants for misdemeanor offenses and placed them under arrest.
The baby, then just four months old, was handed over to the Mississippi Department of Human Services as “abandoned” — despite the child’s grandmother arriving at the scene almost immediately. The grandmother was later awarded custody of the baby, but Shirley also entered an order prohibiting the mother from having any contact with her baby whatsoever, until the court fees were paid.
The mother’s lawyer, Cliff Johnson, quickly contacted county officials to inform them of Shirley’s abuse of power and to demand that the judge be fired and the Youth Court over which he presided be closed.
“For a judge to prohibit an impoverished mother from having any contact with her baby until monetary payments are made is shocking and repugnant,” Johnson declared.
“Such orders are tantamount to judicial kidnapping,” he added.
Johnson’s demands were placed on the agenda for an emergency meeting of the Pearl Board of Alderman, where Shirley pre-empted the board by resigning from his positions. The board voted in favor of shutting down the Youth Court.
Shirley has tried to spin the story to obscure his heartless treatment of an impoverished black mother, insisting that he chose to leave his judicial positions because of disagreements on issues of policy with the city’s mayor, John Windham.
Shirley claimed that he didn’t resign because of “pressure” but rather “because I got tired of the policies in that administration.” He also claimed that Windham had already been planning to close the Youth Court to save money and was only using this case as a means to that end.
Windham wasn’t having it. “We acted under objective facts … to safeguard citizens and the city of Pearl,” he said.
And those citizens who need safeguarding include mothers kept apart from their babies for 14 out of 18 months of the child’s young life.
An order was entered Wednesday reversing Shirley’s callous edict and allowing mother and child to be together again.
But this horrifying example of judicial overreach in Mississippi, particularly regarding poor citizens, is only one of many such cruelties, as the Washington Post’s Radley Balko noted.
“Over the past few years, it has become clear that public officials across the state have been doing things to poor people that are almost too cruel to believe,” Balko wrote.
Other cases he found include “debtor’s prisons” in Jackson and Biloxi; asset forfeiture extortion across the state; people left in jail indefinitely simply because they couldn’t afford bail; and black Mississippians living essentially under siege from a domineering sheriff’s department.
And as the Clarion-Ledger notes, the mother in this case is not the only woman Shirley has separated from her child.
Shirley’s resignation was a long time coming, and the entire state of Mississippi has further housecleaning to do if it truly wants to uphold “family values” for all families.