To the Editor:
With the upcoming elections, citizens of Monroe County will see signs with the candidate names and the positions for which they are running. However, often in language, we use different terms to describe the same title. For instance, the word “prosecution,” which is defined as “the prosecuting party in a criminal action,” has several synonyms for that term; among those are DA, District Attorney, Prosecuting Agent, Prosecuting Attorney, Prosecutor.
Currently, there has been confusion among the names referred to by Monroe County citizens to distinguish between two distinct titles, the first being the attorney appointed by the board of supervisors and the second being the prosecuting attorney. The Monroe County prosecuting attorney is elected by voters every four years.
According to Section 19-3-47 of the Mississippi Code, Annotated, (1972), “the board of supervisors shall have the power, in its discretion, to employ counsel by the year at an annual salary at an amount that it deems proper.” The counsel employed by the board of supervisors has a variety of responsibilities for the county; for example, this attorney represents the county in eminent domain proceedings, certification of title to property the county is acquiring, and criminal cases against a county officer for malfeasance or dereliction of duty in office. This attorney also maintains an office in the county courthouse or other county owned building and represents the board of supervisors and county agencies responsible to the board, according to Section 19-3-47(a) of the Mississippi Code, Annotated, (1972). This attorney shall be employed by the board of supervisors in the matter of issuance of all bonds of the county and the drafting of resolutions in connection therewith, and shall represent the board in all state and federal courts. M.C.A. §19-3-47(b.) (1972). Many citizens refer to this attorney employed by the board of supervisors as the county attorney, attorney for the county, the board of supervisor’s attorney, or the board’s attorney.
However, in this year’s upcoming election, resident citizens of Monroe County shall vote for the county prosecuting attorney. According to Section 19-23-1 of the Mississippi Code, Annotated, (1972), “there shall be, in the counties where such an office now exists, a County Prosecuting Attorney, elected in the county at each general election for state and county officers.” M.C.A. §19-23-1 (1972). The duties of the county prosecutor are distinct from that of the County Attorney appointed by the board of supervisors. The county prosecuting attorney’s responsibilities are to appear and represent the state in all investigations for felony before the various justice court judges in that county; appear before justice court judges and prosecute all cases against persons charged therein; serve as the prosecuting attorney for the county court and shall prosecute all state criminal cases therein; and represent the state in criminal cases appealed from the county court to the circuit court. The county prosecuting attorney may also present matters before a grand jury of the county; is responsible for all misdemeanors, youth court proceedings, and all other cases not specifically granted to the district attorney; reports to the district attorney the disposition of affidavits, crimes, occurrences, and arrests handled by him wherein the conviction may result in imprisonment in the State Penitentiary. M.C.A. §19-23-11 (1972). In the event that there is no elected county prosecuting attorney serving in a county, the prosecution of such cases shall be handled by a county attorney employed and appointed by the board of supervisors of such county pursuant to Section 19-2-49. M.C.A. §19-23-11(8) (1972).
Monroe County has two distinct county officials referenced in the Mississippi Code. The county attorney, also known as the attorney for the board of supervisors who is appointed by our board of supervisors, attending the board meetings where minutes are kept on the record and who represents the county in suits in which the county is being sued. In this year’s election, Monroe County residents have an opportunity to vote for the county prosecuting attorney whose responsibility is the prosecuting attorney for the county, where that individual shall prosecute all state criminal cases therein, and he/she shall represent the state in criminal cases appealed from [justice] court to circuit court. The Mississippi Code distinguishes the “County Prosecuting Attorney” from the “County Attorney” employed by the board of supervisors in Section 19-23-11(8)(1972). Monroe County has an appointed county attorney and an elected county prosecuting attorney. The terms often become used interchangeably and are often misleading to citizens as it creates confusion on what position each respectively holds and duties performed.
Language theorist Jacques Derrida first uses the term “differance” in 1963, wherein the term “differance” plays on the fact that the French word “differer” means both ‘to defer’ and ‘to differ.’ With Derrida’s theory of “differance,” words produce meaning only through the interplay of differences inside a “system of distinct signs.” Differance is the notion that words and signs can never fully summon forth what they mean, but can only be defined through appeal to additional words, from which they differ. Therefore, county attorney and county prosecuting attorney can only reach full potential of articulation by the word “prosecuting.” Without use of this adjective, the meaning of this county office becomes likewise to the county attorney elected by the board of supervisors, where the title loses identity by absence of an essential word that pronounces the true meaning of the job.
In recent elections, the ballots fail to articulate the difference between the two titles of county attorney and county prosecuting attorney. In some counties, one can be the same and act as the “county prosecuting attorney,” but not in Monroe County. Citizens and voters in Monroe County must remember when voting on Aug. 6, 2019, the position for which they are voting is the “county prosecuting attorney,” even though the ballots have historically stated “county attorney.” Absence of the word “prosecuting” gives rise to lost meaning and difference between county attorney and county prosecuting attorney. Adding this word to election ballots could further help citizens to identify and define the meaning of the title of Monroe County’s prosecuting attorney. In fact, the Mississippi Legislature passed a law requiring the board of supervisors to create the position where the ballots shall be written the following: “For County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.” M.C.A. §19-23-3 (1972).