Article byPosted Featured AuthorSeptember 2018
Famed Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story said it best: “the law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage.” Campaigning for elected office, even though temporary, can be every bit the possessive paramour as law practice.
“It’s like having two full-time jobs with lots of overtime,” said Gerald Kucia, a lawyer with the Morgan & Morgan firm and candidate for Hinds County Circuit Judge District 4. “I’m very grateful for my staff and some very understanding defense attorneys.”
Matt Allen, a candidate for Hinds County Circuit Judge District 1, said managing his responsibilities as a lawyer with the Brunini firm with a campaign isn’t easy, but “has been one of the most rewarding and interesting experiences in my life. Juggling the competing demands of running for office, an ongoing law practice, family life, and other life matters is a challenge, but it is doable. My experience thus far is that it requires a focus on the now, the day before you, while always keeping the end-point on the periphery of vision.”
All Mississippi appellate and trial court judges in Mississippi are selected by voters in nonpartisan elections, justice courts and municipal judges in odd-numbered election years and all others in even-numbered election years. Mississippi is one of 26 states that select its appellate judges by election, whether partisan or nonpartisan. Forty-two states select their trial courts judges by vote, also with some elections partisan and others not.
Some have had to let their judicial campaigns take second stage to handle more important — things like being an actual judge. Judge Joseph Sclafani, appointed in April to complete the term of retired Hinds County Circuit Judge William Gowan, has found his first stint on the bench leaves little time to devote to what is also his first campaign.
“Attempting to balance the management of a criminal and civil docket containing well over one thousand cases with conducting my first campaign has been a challenge,” said Sclafani. “Since taking the bench in April, I have worked 7 days a week to implement policies and procedures to move criminal and civil cases off the docket. That has not left much time for campaigning to date. August has been a criminal trial month, and we set thirty cases for trial. As of today, twenty-seven have been resolved, and three are set for trial the last week of August. October will be another criminal trial month, but in between, I hope to find time to hit the campaign trail hard.”
Troy Odom with the Blair & Bondurant firm in Brandon finds his days — and weekends — more crammed than ever. In order to manage his law practice, campaign, and duties as the part-time prosecutor for the City of Pearl on Tuesdays and Thursdays when campaigning “is not an option,” Odom’s remaining days start early and end late.
Even then, “undoubtedly, a speaking engagement or ribbon cutting, or other event will occur during those private practice times that I must attend,” said Odom. “Thankfully, my partners [in the small firm] are fully supportive of my run. They shoulder the economic burden for me during this campaign. I produce as much as I am able, and they see that I am working as hard as I can to balance both obligations.”
Some candidates are sole practitioners, which makes a full-time campaign even more of a challenge. Tameika Bennett, a Brandon lawyer seeking retiring Rankin County Chancellor John Grant’s seat, has learned to simply make campaigning part of her everyday lifestyle.
“I am a devoted Chancery advocate and running a campaign dedicated specifically to my mission in life is rewarding and honestly just another day at work,” said Bennett. “As a wife, mother, attorney, and community leader, I wear several hats and may campaign hat is only additional embroidery added to my attorney hat. Every court appearance and client consult advances my mission and my cause.”
Mel Coxwell, a Brandon lawyer and sole practitioner in the same race with Bennett, said he has begun incorporating case management software to manage both his law practice and his campaign duties, which will “list events that I need to go to and the task I need to do for my campaign,” said Coxwell. “Even when work is not a conflict, I usually have to choose between multiple events or task.”
With campaigns intensifying as election day nears, these lawyer-candidates will no doubt continue to struggle with getting the balance right, but they are setting examples of how to rise to the challenge.