Article byPosted Featured AuthorMarch 2019
Seven new judges in the tri-county area took the bench this January, joining the largest number of statewide newly-elected judges in Mississippi’s modern history.
Overall, 40 new judges were elected across Mississippi during the November 2018 judicial races. This number includes 18 new chancery judges, nine circuit judges, 10 county court judges, and three new Court of Appeals judges. The new judges were sworn in on January 7.
According to Mississippi Judicial College Executive Director Randy G. Pierce, a former chancery and state Supreme Court justice himself, this is the largest number of new judges Mississippi has elected since the Judicial College came into existence.
“In my 25 years practicing, there has never been a generational change of the bench like this,” said Philip Thomas, author of the popular Mississippi Litigation Review blog. “Long time judges retired and new judges elected who may be on the bench for decades. Lawyers will be sorting out the nuances of practicing before the new judges for a while. The interesting question now is whether there will be a similar round of retirements by attorneys in private practice.”
With the December 2018 retirement of former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice William Waller, four new justices now sit on the Mississippi Court of Appeals — three of them by election and one of them by appointment following Justice Kenny Griffis’s nod to fill Justice Waller’s seat.
In the tri-county area, Hinds County had the largest turnover with five new judges — a number spiked by the retirement of several long-term judges: William Singletary and Patricia Wise (Chancery), Jeff Weill (Circuit), and Bill Skinner (County Court). Veteran Circuit Judge William Gowan retired from the bench in March 2018, prior to the end of his term. Judge Gowan’s post had been held since that time by Joseph Sclafani, appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to fill the remaining nine months of Judge Gowan’s final term.
Below is a summary of the results of the area’s judicial elections.
Four new judges now sit on Mississippi’s Court of Appeals, following the retirements of Justice Tyree Irving, Joseph Lee, and Eugene Fair, as well as the appointment of Justice Griffis to the Mississippi Supreme Court. They are:
Incumbent Court of Appeals Justices Donna Barnes (District 1) and Sean Tindell (District 5) returned to their posts without opposition, as did Mississippi Supreme Court Justice David Ishee. A judge’s term on the Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals is 8 years.
Hinds County’s two new Circuit Judges are no strangers to winning elections, both having previously held elected office. They are:
Judge Tomie Green was easily re-elected in District 2 over challenger Kimalon Campbell. Circuit Judge Winston Kidd had no opposition.
In Madison County, Dewey Arthur, former assistant district attorney for Madison and Rankin Counties, won the District 3 runoff against Andy Stewart for the lone Circuit Judge spot up for grabs. Fellow Circuit Judges John Emfinger and Steve Ratcliff returned to their seats unopposed in Subdistricts 1 and 2, respectively.
The Chancery bench in Hinds County also welcomed two new Chancellors with November’s election:
Brandon attorney Troy Odom won the runoff to succeed retiring Rankin County Chancellor John Grant. Rankin County Chancery Judges John McLauren in Subdistrict 1 and Haydn Roberts in Subdistrict 3 had no challengers. Neither did Madison County’s three Chancery Court Judges, — Robert Clark, III, Cynthia Brewer, and James Walker.
Hinds County Court has one new County Court Judge — Jackson lawyer Johnnie McDaniels — who succeeds retiring Judge Bill Skinner. Incumbent Hinds County Court Judge Melvin Priester, Sr. returned to his seat after fending off a challenge by former Hinds County assistant public defender Bridgette Marie Morgan. County Court Judge Larita Cooper-Stokes returns to her seat unopposed.
In Rankin County, incumbent Judge Thomas Broome won his election to return to the bench. Rankin County Court Judge Kent McDaniel ran unopposed, as did Madison County Court Judges Staci O’Neal and Ed Hannan.
Judicial College Executive Director Pierce admitted he was “nervous” about so many new judges taking the bench. Following a week-long training course the first week of December, however, those concerns vanished. “I was very impressed with the new judges.” Pierce said. “They have plenty of legal experience” and are prepared to serve in their new roles.
In addition to the week-long training with the Mississippi Judicial College, the state’s new judges will all attend National Judicial College training programs on jurisdiction in either April or October of this year.
Newly-elected Chancellor Tiffany Grove already has advice for lawyers practicing before her regarding promptness and keeping the court informed. “I’m having a hard time with lawyers being late,” said Grove. “If you are going to be late, please call or email the court administrator. I am also having a hard time with lawyers not informing the court of settlements. If you reach a settlement, please let the court administrator know as soon as possible. We want to utilize the court’s time as much as possible.”