Greenlee named to appeals court
By JEFF AMY
JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant on Tuesday appointed the former U.S. attorney for northern Mississippi, Jim Greenlee, to the state Court of Appeals.
Greenlee presided over the prosecution of Richard “Dickie” Scruggs for bribing a judge, but was criticized over his decision to investigate Muslim convenience store owners looking for terrorism ties. That case and Greenlee’s handling of the investigation into the financial collapse of a cattle processing plant led to complaints by FBI agent Hal Neilson, and the Justice Department ultimately concluded that Greenlee retaliated against Neilson when he recommended Neilson be prosecuted over a real estate deal.
Bryant was filling a vacancy created when he elevated James Maxwell from the appeals court to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Maxwell joined the high court Jan. 1. Greenlee joins the appeals court today.
There are seven years remaining on a term from a district covering all or part of 23 counties in Northeast Mississippi. A nonpartisan election will be held in November to fill out the remainder of the term. In a phone interview, Greenlee said he currently anticipates seeking election.
“I hope and plan to do a good job hearing the cases and deciding the cases based on the law and the facts,” Greenlee said.
He declined to address critics of his record as U.S. attorney, saying “I’ll let them talk about that.”
In announcing the appointment, the Republican governor said that “Jim’s background in private practice and experience as a former federal prosecutor make him uniquely qualified for this position.” Asked about Greenlee’s record, Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler replied by email that Bryant, with the help of an advisory committee, “identified the best candidate and appointed him.”
Greenlee was appointed U.S. attorney for northern Mississippi in 2001 by President George W. Bush after serving as an assistant U.S. attorney since 1987. He resigned in 2010, and since then has practiced law in Oxford.
Neilson complained to superiors in 2006 over Greenlee’s investigation of Muslim convenience store owners. The inquiry found no terrorism ties, but state and federal officials charged more than 60 people with illegal acts, including selling more than the legal limit of pseudoephedrine — used to make illegal methamphetamines.
Neilson also complained about how Greenlee handled an investigation into the financial collapse of the Mississippi Beef Processors plant in Oakland. Republicans alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who took campaign contributions from the plant’s developers, but Musgrove was never charged.
Neilson, at Greenlee’s urging, was indicted on claims he improperly benefited from the construction and lease of offices the FBI rented in Oxford. A jury acquitted Neilson of some charges, and prosecutors then dropped remaining charges.
A 2013 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Greenlee’s referral of Neilson for prosecution was motivated in part by Neilson’s complaints about the convenience store and beef plant investigations. However, the report concluded Neilson’s indictment would have occurred even without Neilson’s complaints and recommended no corrective action.
Neilson, now a lawyer in Oxford, declined comment.
Christi McCoy, an Oxford lawyer who represented Neilson and has worked with him, said she believes Greenlee is unfit to serve as a judge. McCoy has her own history with Greenlee. She was nominated to succeed him as U.S. Attorney until she says Greenlee wrote a letter to the Justice Department claiming McCoy was unfit because she used a private investigator who was under investigation.
“He’s been found by the Department of Justice to have abused his power,” McCoy said. “I think that it’s disgusting that Gov. Bryant appointed him.”