One facet of the controversy about the pardons given by Haley Barbour as he left the Mississippi governorship that has not received much national notice is that many of the felons may be re-incarcerated because they failed to publish a timely notice of their pardon application. Such a notice is required by Mississippi law, and such public-notice laws are under attack in many states, from local governments who don't like having to pay newspapers to print them.
"Many public notices pertaining to cases in counties all over the state weren’t published in the proper local newspaper far enough in advance of the issuance of the pardons," writes Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association. "Many more evidently didn’t run at all. Even a cursory check of ads placed in a Jackson newspaper showed some of the public notices were scheduled to begin running Jan. 12, two days after the pardons themselves had been signed."
Bruce said the episode is just the latest example of a problem with public-notice scofflaws. "The circumventing of public notice law has been a problem at all levels of government since we formed one," he wrote. "And, quite frankly, I’m not sure whether it’s better to say the governor’s office was unaware of what is constitutionally-required or simply didn’t bother to check."
Bruce concluded, "This is a prime example of the importance – and too often overlooked – principle of public notices that appear in newspapers and on their websites in this state and nationwide. They serve the public’s right to know about what is happening with government and public officials within their communities. And when public notice laws are abused – either by mistake or on purpose – a serious right of citizens, taxpayers and voters is compromised. . . . a number of murderers were nearly handed back the right to own a gun. And some molesters were almost excused from registering as sex offenders. Victims of such crimes deserve better. And the public at large has a right to know. Always."
Like many of its counterparts, the Mississippi Press Association puts public notices on a searchable website for free, in an effort to blunt local governments' lobbying arguments that the notices should be placed on government sites, not printed in newspapers. To see that site, click here.