CABA 2018 Judicial Races

A Large Number of Open Judgeships Increases Competition This Year

Chris Shaw

Article by Chris Shaw Featured Author


Lawyers in the tri-county area have flooded the campaign trail in 2018 seeking to fill the open benches created by an unusually large number of judges not seeking re-election.

Three seats on the ten-member Mississippi Court of Appeals are up for grabs this November with the upcoming departures of Judges Tyree Irving (District 2), Joseph Lee (District 4), and Eugene Fair (District 5) at the end of their terms in January 2019. In the lower courts (Circuit, Chancery, and County), voters in the tri-county area will be electing at least seven new judges on November 6.

Most of the action in the lower courts will center on Hinds County, where five veteran judges are not seeking re-election. Leaving their posts at the conclusion of this term are Circuit Judge Jeff Weill (vying for a seat on the Court of Appeals), Chancery Judges William Singletary and Patricia Wise, and County Court Judge Bill Skinner. Circuit Judge William Gowan retired from the bench on March 31, 2018, prior to the end of his term. His appointed replacement until the January 2019 end of the term, Joseph Sclafani, is one of the four lawyers seeking to fill that spot permanently.

“In my 25 years of practice, we’ve never had so many contested judicial races in the same election cycle,” said Philip Thomas, author of the popular Mississippi Litigation Review blog. “Normally, there are no competitive races. We’re getting 15 years’ worth of contested races in the same year.”

Thomas pointed out that what makes this election year unique — and the races more competitive — is the unusual number of judges retiring from office at the end of their terms. “Judges usually resign during a term and the Governor appoints a replacement,” said Thomas. “Mostly, that’s not what’s happening this year.”

Below is a summary of the local judicial races voters will be deciding on November 2.

Court of Appeals

Three lawyers are vying for Judge Tyree Irving’s seat in District 2, which includes areas of Hinds and Madison Counties:

  • Eric Hawkins — Greenville attorney with his own practice
  • Ceola James — Vicksburg attorney and former Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge
  • Deborah McDonald — Natchez attorney with her own practice

The race for Judge Joseph Lee’s seat in Court of Appeals District 4, which includes portions of Hinds County, has five local attorneys in the mix:

  • Byron Carter — Byram attorney with his own practice
  • Brad Clanton — Jackson attorney with his own practice
  • David McCarty — Jackson attorney with his own practice
  • Jeff Weill — current Hinds County Circuit Judge

Two lawyers are seeking Judge Eugene Fair’s spot on the Court of Appeals in District 5:

  • Anthony Lawrence — Pascagoula attorney
  • Michael McPhail — Hattiesburg attorney

No candidates qualified to challenge incumbent Court of Appeals Judges Donna Barnes (District 1) and Sean Tindell (District 5) in the November election, so both will return to their seats on the Court unopposed. On the Mississippi Supreme Court, only one Justice — David Ishee — has a term expiring on January 6, 2019. However, no candidates qualified to run against Ishee in this election. A judge’s term on the Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals is 8 years.

Circuit Court

Six candidates are running to fill the Hinds County District 1 Circuit Court judge seat being vacated by Judge Weill:

  • Matt Allen — Jackson attorney with the Brunini firm
  • Bruce Barton — Jackson attorney with his own practice
  • Minor Buchanan — Jackson attorney with his own practice
  • Pat McNamara — assistant Hinds County district attorney
  • Bill Walker — Jackson attorney with the Walker & Walker firm
  • Adreinne Wooten — Jackson attorney and state legislator

In District 4, four area lawyers are seeking to replace Circuit Judge William Gowan:

  • Gerald Kucia — Jackson attorney with the Morgan & Morgan firm
  • Faye Peterson — Jackson attorney and former Hinds County District Attorney
  • Joseph Sclafani — Jackson attorney appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to serve the remainder of Judge William Gowan’s term
  • Trent Walker — Jackson attorney with his own practice

District 2’s longtime Circuit Judge Tomie Green faces Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Kimalon Campbell in the November election. Circuit Judge Winston Kidd had no opposition.

Five candidates qualified to run for retiring Madison and Rankin County Circuit Judge William Chapman’s seat on the bench:

  • Dewey Arthur — assistant district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties
  • Dan Jones — Jackson attorney with Pepper & Odom
  • Jamie McBride — assistant Hinds County District Attorney
  • Bruce McKinley — Ridgeland attorney with his own practice and Madison County Justice Court Judge
  • Andy Stewart — Flowood attorney with his own practice

Fellow Circuit Judges John Emfinger and Steve Ratcliff will return to their seats unopposed in Subdistricts 1 and 2, respectively.

Chancery Court

Hinds County’s Subdistrict 2 has two local lawyers seeking the Chancery Court seat currently held by retiring Judge Patricia Wise:

  • Crystal Wise Martin — Jackson attorney with Precious Martin Sr & Assoc
  • Reginald Harrion — Jackson attorney with his own practice

Two area attorneys are also seeking retiring Judge William Singletary’s seat in Hinds County’s Subdistrict 3:

  • Monique Brown- Barrett — Jackson attorney with her own practice
  • Ottowa Carter, Jr. — Clinton attorney with his own practice
  • Tiffany Grove — Jackson attorney with Williford, McAllister & Jacobus
  • Steven P. Nixon — Clinton attorney with Milner & Nixon and Clinton municipal judge

In Rankin County, longtime Chancery Court Judge John Grant is retiring. Three candidates are seeking his seat:

  • Tamekia Cooper Bennett — Brandon attorney with her own practice
  • Mel Coxwell — Brandon attorney with his own practice
  • Troy Odom — Brandon attorney with Blair & Bondurant

Rankin County Chancery Judges John McLauren in Subdistrict 1 and Haydn Roberts in Subdistrict 3 have no challengers. Neither do Madison County’s three Chancery Court Judges — Robert Clark, III, Cynthia Brewer, and James Walker — who will all return to the bench unopposed.

County Court

Three candidates are seeking retiring Hinds County Court Judge Bill Skinner’s seat in November:

John Fike — Raymond attorney with his own practice

Johnnie McDaniels — Jackson attorney and executive director of the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center

Yemi Kings — Jackson attorney with her own practice

Incumbent Hinds County Court Judge Melvin Priester, Sr. is being challenged by former Hinds County assistant public defender Bridgette Marie Morgan. County Court Judge Larita Cooper-Stokes is running unopposed.

In Rankin County, Brandon lawyer John Shirley is challenging incumbent Judge Thomas Broome. Rankin County Court Judge Kent McDaniel is running unopposed, as are Madison County Court Judges Staci O’Neal and Ed Hannan.