Plaintiff: ‘I have a right to sue’ 6/12/2015

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 12, 2015

Earl Burdette

Plaintiff: ‘I have a right to sue’

By John Howell
Stung by criticism of his role as plaintiff in a wage and hour and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Panola County, Earl Burdette pushed back during a recent interview, citing his rights as an American citizen and an American soldier.

The lawsuit he filed in November, 2013, following his April, 2012 termination as a Panola County deputy sheriff, was settled in April when the Panola County Board of Supervisors in a three to two vote, agreed to pay Burdette $440,000, with $250,000 paid from county funds and the balance coming from the county’s liability insurance carrier.  Burdette, his attorney and attorneys for the supervisors had entered court-ordered negotiations to arrive at a settlement.

“Everybody has told a side but me,” Burdette said, following published reports of Panola County Board of Supervisors President Kelly Morris, speaking to the Batesville Exchange Club April 28, defending his vote to break the tie and settle.

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District Three Supervisor John Thomas spoke to the Exchange Club on May 13 and stated his reasons for opposing the settlement.

“I have a right to sue,” Burdette said. “They fired me for no reason.”

In the complaint in the November, 2013 lawsuit styled Earl Burdette vs. Panola County and the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, Burdette states that when he raised the question of overtime, he was wrongfully terminated.

His separate lawsuits for the wage and hour violations and for wrongful termination were combined for settlement negotiations.

Yet, during the negotiations when his attorneys urged him to resist settlement and go to trial, “I was the one who told the lawyers, let’s don’t go to court,” Burdette said. “I was the one who said, ‘Let’s settle.’”

Supervisor Morris cited the county’s inability to produce time records showing Burdette’s time as having weakened the county’s position in the negotiations.

Board of Supervisors Attorney Bill McKenzie has also said that he thought the settlement was in the best interest of the county.

Burdette, who was appointed Como Police Chief following his termination as a deputy, and Como Deputy Police Chief Faye Pettis, also a former Panola deputy who had been terminated, had also sued the sheriff and county for wrongful arrest stemming from the November, 2013 altercation at the Como police station between the Como officers and Sheriff Dennis Darby and deputies.

That lawsuit was settled in February for an undisclosed amount.

Still, Burdette said: “I feel like I’m being singled out.”

He points to other lawsuits brought against the sheriff’s department by former employees, including another wrongful termination lawsuit brought by former Deputy Brad Pickett in April, 2013.

That lawsuit was also settled in February, also for an undisclosed amount.

Other lawsuits in federal court naming the sheriff and county as defendants include a wrongful death claim filed by the mother of Charles Willie Lark III, who died in April, 2013 while he was held as an inmate in the Panola county jail.

“People are going to come to their own conclusions, and that’s fine,” Burdette said, “but everything is in the public record; all you’ve got to do is read it,” he said, alluding to the federal court file.