Council rejects lawsuit settlement

City Council members shot down a $75,000 settlement proposal of a lawsuit filed over then-Jackson Police Officer Mertis Walker’s arrest of a woman who owed her money.

“We voted it down because we thought the city should not pay a dime as we are not liable,” Council President Leslie McLemore said after the vote Tuesday.

The lawsuit stemmed from the February 2002 arrest of Blanche Ann Ray, who owed a loan to Walker through a cash-advance business Walker ran. Ray alleged her civil rights were violated and that Walker used her position as a police officer to try to collect the debt.

After a U.S. District Court trial a year ago, Walker was ordered to pay $500,000 and the city was found liable for $150,000. But U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee in November said Jackson police could not have known Walker’s business could lead to constitutional violations, so he threw out the judgment against the city. The city had asked Lee to set aside the verdict or to order a new trial.

Ray and her attorney, former Jackson Mayor Dale Danks, appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney Sam Begley was hired to work the case alongside City Attorney Terry Wallace. “When the case went to the 5th Circuit, (the court) offered to mediate before we started briefing,” Begley said.

To Begley, it seemed reasonable to take the mediator’s suggestion and settle the case for $75,000 – even though the city was no longer liable – rather than run up attorney fees during the appeal.

Although the council did not call on Begley to speak Tuesday, he said he might go before the members and explain the situation. As for the appeal, Begley said, the next move is up to Danks.

A phone message left at Danks’ office Tuesday afternoon was not returned. Ray could not be reached by phone Tuesday.

Criminal charges against Walker were dropped last year by the Hinds County district attorney after two mistrials. Police Department spokesman Robert Graham said Tuesday Walker is no longer a city employee.

In other council business:

?The council voted 4-3 to table a resolution that would encourage Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. not to change the city employment structure.

Backers said the point was to give the incoming mayor a clean slate from which to build his administrative team.

?A special council meeting will be held today at 3:30 p.m. to discuss an order pertaining to the city’s sign ordinance. The meeting will be held in City Hall at 219 S. President St.

Clarion Ledger
5/25/5