When Arthur Johnston reported for duty as a Clerk Designee in early December, he answered every inquiry into his well-being with, “Scared.” These days, he’s starting to look less like a deer in the headlights and more like a … well, he looks like a deer in the headlights who is daring you to hit him. Having tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade his predecessor, J. T. Noblin, to accept an unpaid position as Clerk Emeritus, Arthur has manfully shouldered the responsibility for running the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
Reminiscent of J. T.’s tenure as Clerk, Arthur faced a water crisis early on, only his water came in a more solid form — snow and ice. With the prospect of Southern Mississippi blanketed by snow, and with treacherous road conditions stretching as far north as Jackson, Arthur boldly directed his staff, in the early morning hours of January 28, to notify employees that the Court would close for the day. “Arthur was right on top of it,” according to Chief Judge Guirola. “He was in touch with emergency operations personnel all over the state and made a decisive call.” In his short time with the Court, Arthur has weathered two judges’ meetings and associated receptions (one of which included a near-catastrophic easel failure that sent a retiring judge’s portrait flying across a dining room), selection of new Magistrate Judge, and, not one, but two snow events. He’s currently involved in a change-of-command audit and probably wondering when things are going to get really busy.
Arthur’s work history should have prepared him to wear the mantle of Clerk with ease. He has served as Madison County’s Chancery Clerk, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, County Treasurer, and Auditor. He was instrumental in adapting the federal electronic court filing system for use in state court, making Mississippi the only state whose electronic filing system is based on the federal model. For his efforts, Arthur received the Chief Justice Award at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Bar Association.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Arthur was known in his Madison County office as a cooperative and compassionate manager. Chancery Judge Cynthia Brewer feels like she’s lost an appendage. In her opinion, Arthur was no less than a miracle worker, able to procure, at least most of the time, whatever was needed. (She’s still upset about the bulletproof glass, Arthur.) Judge Brewer related that, when an employee in another office, who was new to Madison County, lost a close relative, Arthur took his entire staff to the funeral.
A native of Cleveland, Mississippi, and a cum laude graduate of Delta State University (and more about the Fighting Okra later), Arthur is also a graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he was the associate editor of the Law Journal. He was in the private practice of law for ten years before his election as the Madison County Chancery Clerk. Arthur and his wife, Beverly, have three daughters — Abby, Anna, and Avery. Beverly is the Principal of Madison Station Elementary School, and, in Madison, she is probably the more recognized of the two. With a wife whose job stresses likely mirror his own, Arthur has a well-developed “can do” attitude toward doing his part to keep things running. He could be referred to in female circles as “well-trained.”
Arthur’s management style can be described as intense, but relaxed and inclusive. As would be expected from a man so knowledgeable about electronic filing, he has impressed the Court’s IT Department with his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, systems management. According to IT Manager Melvin Sawyer, Arthur has immersed himself into the installation of the National IP Telephone Service at the Gulfport courthouse. His enthusiasm is a double-edged sword, however, as Melvin made that comment while nearly hidden by piles of documents and to-do lists for new project implementation.
His extraordinary work ethic notwithstanding, Arthur has endeared himself to his employees by declaring the aforementioned snow day. Additionally, he has embraced the lighthearted moments enjoyed by his office by announcing receipt and disbursement of a king cake (he’s already figured out which employees should be delayed in reaching the festivities so as to preserve cake for all) and an ice cream send-off for an employee leaving for out of state employment (because “it’s never too cold for ice cream”). He’s still getting used to his co-workers’ humor and penchant for practical jokes, as when, knowing his loyalty to Delta State, one of them seized the stick-on Fighting Okra from his old office and held it for ransom:
We suspect that Arthur is fully capable of dishing out an equal volume of good humor; he’s just holding back. In Madison County, he was known for the flowery entreaties that accompanied his requests for approval of his fees. Judge Brewer provided the following one:
Please look with favor upon your humble & ob’t serv’t and consider affixing your golden signature to the attached. Your fond treatment of the undersigned in such respect will enable him to feed and clothe his issue this month.
With deep respect & admiration, etc. etc.
At a recent Federal Bar luncheon, Arthur unveiled (á la David Letterman) ten reasons why it’s better to be District Court Clerk than Chancery Court Clerk. Some of the advantages are obvious — he will never have to seek or make a campaign contribution again. Some are puzzling — does he really believe that working for fifteen judges is better than working for two?
He’ll never process another civil commitment, true enough, but he may be ready to volunteer for his own in a few months.
At any rate, Arthur seems pleased to be here, and we are, as we say in the Delta, tickled to have him. He has lifted the melancholy that settled over us all on J. T.’s departure and shown himself to be a capable manager and a duct tape ninja. Our new Clerk may not be a J. T. Noblin, but he’s a pretty darn good Arthur Johnston.