Confession Of A MS Judge: Rights Are Violated, But Not All The Rights

Screen grab from C-Span coverage of Killen trial
Screen grab from C-Span coverage of Killen trial

Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Marcus D. Gordon is no stranger to tough cases. He is the judge who presided over the 2005 case involving Edgar Ray Killen’s role in the Ku Klux Klan-ordered assassination of three civil rights workers in 1964. Judge Gordon handed down a 60-year sentence to Killen. A punishment that met the maximum allowed under the law. As you can see, Gordon is no stranger to making sure criminals pay for their crimes. However, he is also no stranger to Mississippi violating citizen’s rights by making people who have not been convicted of a crime also pay for ‘their crimes.’

In a recent interview with Fault Lines‘ Anjali Kamat, Judge Gordon gave a few baffling, if not downright snarky, remarks on his view of the legal system. Gordon displays a complete lack of professionalism from the start when he insists on calling the interviewer ‘Lady’ throughout his answers.

Besides being demeaning to the person conducting the interview, these little ‘legal gems’ fell from Judge Gordon’s mouth:

  • When asked why he would allow a non-convicted citizen be stuck in jail for months (some even over a year) before being able to even speak to an attorney, he replied, “Lady, people charged with crimes, they are criminals.”
  • He then followed this with a complete head scratcher of “They had not requested an attorney in 98 percent of the cases. You never hear of that. I never hear of that.”
  • To make matters even more confusing, he ‘clarified’ is own statement by saying, “I don’t know whether they have requested an attorney or not.” The jump in logic is enough to make Jeb Bush’s 9-11 ‘was a safe time’ statement look Socratic.
  • “The criminal system is a system of criminals. Sure, their rights are violated. But not all rights are violated.” – I’m not even sure what this is supposed to mean. Is Judge Gordon implying that he only willfully violates the rights of citizens he doesn’t agree with?
  • When asked about the Due Process Clause, Judge Gordon replied with, “You must understand that it is not all the responsibility of the public defender or the state or the governor or the judge. The person charged has responsibilities. And if he wants to protect his rights, he has to make it known.
  • To further insult the 5th and 14th Amendment, Judge Gordon uses his logic to redefine what “rights” means, “His rights are violated only if he exercises his rights—to ask for an attorney, to ask for a trial, to ask for prosecution or discharge.
Credit: Víctor Tadashi Suárez for Al Jazeera America
Credit: Víctor Tadashi Suárez for Al Jazeera America

These are not just abstract quotes from an interview with “a Lady.” These quotes translate into real horror stories about real people. Take for instance Willie Nicks, a man who spent over a year waiting for his day in court for “knowing something about a burglary and not coming forward.” Where did he wait? In jail. Where would he go after being held? Not to his house–He lost that while in jail. Maybe his boss can put him up at a hotel until he gets on his feet. Whoops! Did I forget to mention that he lost his job while waiting over a year in jail for his trial or even to speak to a lawyer.

At least we can be secure in the thought that Judge Gordon is keeping Willie Nicks, an obvious criminal, behind bars so he can’t harm the rest of us. Well, except for the small fact that Willie Nicks eventually gets released after 14 months spent awaiting his trial (or to talk to a lawyer). Why was he released? Funny story. The charges were dropped. No harm, no foul, right Willie? Let’s have Willie tell his own story. I must remind you that this clip is back when Willie Nicks was a fresh face in jail–all of ‘only’ 11 months held without a lawyer, court date, or even a charge that sounds less made up than Trump’s hair.

If you are in Mississippi and plan on committing a crime or, as Willie Nicks found out–just being black–in the state, then you might want to take Judge Gordon’s advice and proactively exercise your rights before they are violated. To make this simple, I have included Gordon’s full address and telephone number. Remember, Mississippi, if you don’t inform Judge Gordon of your rights, he will have no other way of knowing you have them.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons available under a Creative Commons license

Marcus D. Gordon
Senior Judge, Circuit Court
92 W Broad St
Decatur, MS 39327-8960
Newton County
PO Box 220
Decatur, MS 39327-0220

Contact Marcus D. Gordon
(601) 635-3540

Jo Szewczyk is an American scholar who earned his PhD from Lancaster University in the UK. He is currently an ex-pat American living in Montreal, Canada where he spends his time with his cat, Chuck Finley.