Circuit Judge Christopher Collins knew he was going to be a lawyer when he was a junior at Union High School.

But that came after he realized he didn’t want to be a heart surgeon.

“I was interested in heart surgery,” Judge Collins said. “But the first day of chemistry class, the teacher had everyone prick their finger so we could see what blood type we had. I passed out. That changed my mind.”

A family member with a heart condition had made an impression on Collins when he was young.

“About the time I hit high school, Barney Clark was getting the first artificial heart and I was enthralled with it,” Collins said. “I studied it and it really interested me. But being squeamish a blood ended that.”

Later in his junior year, he found his career track. He participated in a mock trial where he played the role of an attorney.

“I really enjoyed that,” Collins said. “They gave us a mock case. They made up a set of facts. I think it was a criminal case.  You tried both sides of it. You prosecuted the first time and then defended the case the second time around. I loved it.”

Incidentally, “one of my teammates from that trial, Erik Richardson, did make a medical doctor and practices in Oxford,” Collins said. But Collins had found his calling from that point.

Judge Collins, 52, announced Dec. 1, he was resigning to return to private practice. His resignation is effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Judge Collins said he plans to return to open a practice in Philadelphia that will later include family members. 

His oldest daughter, Katie Collins Curren, was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in September 2019, and her husband is a law student. Daughter Muriel Collins is in her first year of law school at the University of Mississippi School of Law. His son, Alexander Collins, a student at Mississippi College, is interested in law, as is his youngest daughter Olivia.

Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Collins in March of 2016.



“It was an incredible honor and a huge challenge and I like to be challenged,” Collins said.

Collins added that his 24 years of practicing law helped him prepare for that challenge.

“The majority of my practice was criminal defense,” Collins said.  “The judge’s job is to ensure that the forum is fair and impartial to everyone. The judge’s job is to enforce the rules of court.”

The Eighth Circuit Court covers Neshoba, Newton, Leake and Scott counties. Court is held three times a year in each county. Each three-week session usually sets aside the first week for Civil trials and two weeks for Criminal trials. Most of the criminal cases result in a plea bargains between the district attorney’s office and the defendant and are brought before the judge.  

That turns out to be a lot of cases in one year. While moving around to four counties, one wonders how the judge keeps everything in order.

“An excellent court administrator certainly helps and my court administrator, Ms. Janis Watts has a wealth of institutional circuit court knowledge,” Collins said. “She keeps up with the cases and keeps everything running smoothly, getting out notices for all of the parties to be here at the appropriate times for their matters to be heard. She is very efficient.”

Collins was born and raised in House community and has lived on his family property all of his life.

“My parents live at the top of one hill and I live at the top of another hill,” said Collins. “It is about a 10th of a mile from where I grew up.”

He graduated from Union High School in 1985 and attended East Central Community College. After graduation, he moved on to Mississippi College. After graduation, he went on to earn his juris doctorate from the Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson.

After law school, he returned home and began his practice in Union and later in Philadelphia. In 1999, he began serving as civil court judge for the Tribal Court of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and continued until his circuit court appointment in 2016.

Also during this time, he served as a domestic violence court judge for the Tribal Court. He was a prosecutor for the cities of Union and Decatur, and served as a special prosecutor in Winston and Lauderdale counties. He served as felony indigent counsel in the Eighth District and as post-conviction counsel for inmates.

 

What’s next?

The Governor has authority to appoint a new judge to the vacancy on the Eighth Circuit Court. The vacancy will occur before Gov.-elect Tate Reeves’ inauguration, scheduled for Jan. 14, so Gov. Phil Bryant may name the appointee if he chooses.

Messages were left with Bryant’s staff to determine whether or not he would make an outgoing appointment.

The appointment would be for the year 2020. A special election is expected to be scheduled in November 2020. Mississippi Code Section 23-15-849 sets out the procedure for gubernatorial appointment and the holding of a special election.