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Judge Rejects Court-Martial of National Guard Leader

November 2, 1990

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) _ A military judge Thursday canceled the court-martial of Mississippi’s top National Guard officer, saying Gov. Ray Mabus wrongly influenced the case.

The judge rejected allegations from the governor’s office that Adj. Gen. Arthur J. Farmer used insider information to purchase land near Camp Shelby, which is targeted for expansion.

Mabus reprimanded Farmer for participating in the August 1989 purchase of five acres and later suspended him.

Judge William Eshee Jr. said Mabus used undue influence in convening the court-martial. Eshee cited evidence that the governor’s advisers may have helped him select members of a military court.

The state’s Code of Military Justice says the governor must personally select members of such a court.

Eshee also cited Mabus’ placement of Gen. Bela Chain on a list of prospective jurors. In October 1989, Farmer attempted to remove Chain as commander of a National Guard unit in Tupelo. Farmer testified Tuesday during a pre-trial court-martial hearing that Mabus stepped in to prevent Chain’s dismissal.

It would have been the first military trial against a Mississippi National Guard officer. The decision could be appealed to the Mississippi Court of Military Appeals, a body that has never been used.

Farmer said he intends to resume his duties.

″I just want to do the duties of adjutant general and I will be in contact with the commander in chief (Mabus) to work out those details,″ he said.

Eshee’s ruling includes a prohibition against the federal government reconvening a court-martial against Farmer on the same charges.

″I am disappointed in the ruling, particularly given the fact that Gen. Farmer, by his own admission, showed bad judgment in the purchase of land adjacent to Camp Shelby,″ Mabus said in a statement.

Mabus said a military investigator recommended a court-martial.

Mabus cannot fire Farmer. His dismissal would require an impeachment trial by the Senate or an ethics conviction.

″Basically what this ruling by the judge says is that an adjutant general can attempt to use his position for profit and the military can’t or won’t do anything,″ Mabus said.

Farmer, 57, of Crystal Springs and his attorneys were required during the nearly four-day preliminary hearing to submit evidence showing that Mabus’ actions were vindictive prosecution.

″A reasonable person would conclude that unlawful command influence has affected this case,″ Eshee said.

He first announced his decision Wednesday and made it final Thursday.

Mabus appointed Farmer adjutant general in 1988, which placed him in command of the state’s 16,000 guardsmen.

Mabus assumed day-to-day control of the Guard after suspending Farmer in February. The governor ordered Farmer’s court-martial Oct. 22. Farmer continued to draw his $50,400 annual salary.

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