The Mississippi Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Sharon Mark, the former Hattiesburg Municipal Court clerk who previously sued the city, former Mayor Johnny DuPree and all five members of Hattiesburg City Council for slander, among other things.
On Aug. 15, Supreme Court Justices James Kitchens, Leslie King, Josiah Coleman, Dawn Beam and David Ishee voted to grant the hearing. Justices Michael Randolph, James Maxwell and Robert Chamberlin voted to deny the hearing, while Justice Kenneth Griffis did not participate.
Marks originally filed a lawsuit in 2013, alleging she had been the victim of intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of implied contract, outrage, negligence, menace and privacy violation while working at the municipal court.
The suit claimed that DuPree and/or council members participated in, allowed or ratified repeated statements that Mark wrongfully benefited by misusing her position for private gain and assisting criminals, gaining from improperly charging fees and favoring relatives. The suit also alleges that Mark's medical documents and history were released into the public domain for viewing by DuPree and/or council members, and that those defendants who did not participate in the actual release ratified those actions and are, consequently, equally culpable.
In August 2013, the city answered the suit, arguing that Mark's termination was a result of her own misconduct and negligence and that she fails to state with "the required specificity" the alleged slanderous remarks.
City officials testified that in 2012, they had received allegations of impropriety by Mark and several of the deputy clerks, including hiding paperwork, shredding documents, accepting bribes for dismissing tickets and engaging in inappropriate conduct with judges.
Following an internal investigation by the Hattiesburg Police Department, four municipal court employees were disciplined, and Mark and two deputy clerks were suspended without pay.
Mark was later reassigned to the city’s housing department and appointed as the department’s coordinator for federal and state programs.
In July 2016, the matter went to a five-day trial in Forrest County Circuit Court, where County Court Judge Michael H. Ward of Gulfport considered all the evidence before dismissing the case.
Mark took the matter to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, where on Jan. 8 the court ruled for the city.