GULFPORT – A chancery judge found Auditor Stacey Pickering and his office in contempt for improperly withholding public records from The Sun Herald and abusing the grand jury system in the process.
Judge Jennifer Schloegel also ordered Pickering, his office and the state Department of Marine Resources to pay the more then $36,000 in attorney fees the newspaper incurred in its 19-month battle to see the documents related to its investigation of possible wrongdoing at the DMR in Biloxi.
Schloegel also fined Pickering; Attorney General Jim Hood and auditor investigator David Huggins; and audit special agent Chris Lott and Assistant Attorneys General Melissa Patterson, Joseph Runnels, Sandra Chesnutt and Harold Pizzetta $100 each for their roles in the “willful and wrongful denial” of the public-records request by the paper.
“There is evidence Attorney General Hood counseled the defendant auditor to disregard the ruling and order of the chancery court,” Schloegel wrote.
Pickering would not comment on the ruling. Hood’s office said he would appeal.
“We respectfully disagree with the judge on both the facts and the law,” spokeswoman Jan Schaefer said.