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(CN) — A Mississippi judge must be removed from the bench after his attack on a mentally disabled man at a flea market, the state’s highest court ruled.
William Weisenberger Sr. served as a judge in the Madison County Justice Court. In May 2014, he attended the Canton Flea Market.
The Commission on Judicial Performance alleged Weisenberger physically attacked and directed racial slurs at Eric Rivers, a black man with disabilities.
Weisenberger had been directing traffic at the fair and was ejecting Rivers from the fair after he had been accused of touching women inappropriately for the second time that day.
The Commission found that Weisenberger slapped Rivers in the back of the head, called him a “n——” and told him to run away in a certain direction.
After these allegations surfaced, Weisenberger took a leave of absence from the bench. He pleaded guilty to assaulting Rivers and received a six-month suspended sentence.
The Commission also recommended that the Weisenberger be suspended from the bench for 180 days. He objected, noting that he had lost an election and would no longer be a judge in January 2016.
The Commission decided that Weisenberger’s behavior was so egregious that no sanction short of removal from office would be appropriate. He was also assessed a fine and costs in the total amount of $6,918.
Weisenberger appealed, but the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the sanctions in an unsigned opinion.
“Although Weisenberger was not a security officer and was not hired to conduct security, he purposefully and intentionally interfered in the situation with Rivers, using aggression and bigotry, and willingly chose not to wait for a hired security guard or law enforcement officer,” the justices wrote.
They added that judges have been suspended in the past despite no longer holding office.
“The evidence also showed that it was apparent that Rivers was mentally disabled as soon as he spoke, so Weisenberger most likely knew that Rivers was mentally disabled,” they stated.
Justice Jess Dickinson partially dissented from his colleagues.
“The notion that we can remove Bill Weisenberger from office after the voters already have done so is pure fiction,” he wrote.
Justice Josiah Coleman responded with a concurring opinion that disagreed with Dickinson despite acknowledging his “excellent point.”
“If we omit the sanction from today’s opinion, then should the above-described case arise it would not be so readily apparent that removal is proper, despite the severity of the misconduct,” he stated. “Because including the sanction will better inform the Court’s decisions in the future, I concur with the majority’s decision to do so — despite the reality that Bill Weisenberger already has left office.”
Representatives of the parties did not immediately respond to Courthouse News’ request for comment.