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Miss. college president pays to settle suit over wife's college job.

JACKSON, Miss. -- Hinds Community College President Clyde Muse will pay the state $35,000 to settle a six-year-old lawsuit stemming from circumstances surrounding his wife's employment at the school.

The state Attorney General's Office and the Mississippi Ethics Commission filed a lawsuit in October 1996 that claimed Muse used his influence to keep his wife, Vashti, on the school's payroll as a reading instructor from 1983 to 1996.

Muse maintained he didn't influence Hinds trustees to employ his wife and wanted a trial to decide whether he violated ethics laws and was subject to possible penalties and damages.

Muse, the ethics commission and the attorney general announced the settlement last month, when the case was set for trial in Hinds County Circuit Court.

"Not only has it been a personal distraction to us, but to Hinds Community College and the public," Muse said. "We felt it was in the best interest of all to settle.

"However, at no time did we act with knowledge or intention to do anything other than serve the best interests of Hinds Community College and its students."

Muse's attorney, John Corlew, said the law questioned by the ethics commission was passed after Vashti Muse was hired.

Even without the trial, the case already had spent a lot of time in the courts.

In November 1999, the Attorney General's Office asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to direct Circuit Judge Breland Hilburn to order Muse to pay damages and restitution in the ethics complaint.

Hilburn had set a date for trial, rejecting the AG's arguments that there were no issues for a jury to decide.

The Supreme Court in October denied the attorney general's petition and ordered the case to proceed to trial.

Hilburn threw out the complaint against Muse in April 1997, but in December 1998, the state Supreme Court, by a 7-1 vote, reinstated it.

Muse's attorneys had argued that his due process would be violated if he wasn't allowed a jury trial. The attorneys said one issue was that Muse didn't know he was violating an ethics law.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Scott Rankin said he was pleased with the outcome.

"It was a reasonable amount based on the civil penalty the court could have imposed in a conflict-of-interest judgment," Rankin said.

He said the case also makes it clear that people who use positions as public servants to financially benefit themselves, relatives or their businesses are violating the state's ethics laws.

Muse said one of the conditions of his wife's resignation from her paid position was that she be allowed to continue to teach at Hinds without pay.

She remains on the school's staff.

"It's my responsibility to see that we get the very best people that we can, and obviously I'm pleased she decided to continue," Muse said. "She's a truly dedicated, outstanding professor."

Vashti Muse served as president of both the Mississippi Association of Developmental Education and the National Association for Developmental Education, according to a statement by Clyde Muse. He also said that Vashti Muse was awarded the faculty member of the year award from the Association of Community College Trustees in 1995, among other awards.
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Author:Porretto, John
Publication:Community College Week
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:Jan 7, 2002
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