PERRY/Chancery races heat up
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 1:00 AM
Three Mississippi Court of Appeals judges stand for reelection this year: Jimmy Maxwell, Kenny Griffis and Virginia Carlton. All three are unopposed following the May 9 qualifying deadline, not an unusual situation. Four years ago, five seats on the Court of Appeals were up for election, all five incumbents ran and won, only two were opposed.
Of the 102 chancery and circuit court judges on the ballot, over 75 percent will be re-elected without opposition. The unopposed rate is down slightly from 77 percent in 2010.
Forty of the 49 chancery judges elected in Mississippi this year are unopposed incumbents. There are two open seats and seven races featuring incumbents challenged by opponents. Here are the contested chancery court races; next week's column will highlight circuit court races.
The Eight Chancery Court District (Hancock, Harrison, Stone) features two races. In Place 2, incumbent Jennifer Schloegel, daughter of former Gulfport mayor George Schloegel, is seeking a second term. She defeated four opponents in 2010 with 51 percent to avoid a run-off. She faces a challenge by civil litigation attorney Stephen Benvenutti of Bay St. Louis. Schloegel made headlines this year presiding over the open records lawsuit against Auditor Stacey Pickering by the Sun Herald seeking documents from the Department of Marine Resources that state and federal officials were using as part of their investigations.
In Place 3, incumbent Sandy Steckler, a former state senator, faces a challenge from former Biloxi city attorney Ronnie Cochran. Steckler was appointed to the bench in 2001 by Governor Ronnie Musgrove.
In the Eleventh District (Holmes, Yazoo, Madison), three-term Judge Janace Harvey Goree is retiring. The open seat is being sought by Jackson city prosecutor Barbara Ann Bluntson and Robert G. Clark III, a Holmes County youth court judge and Lexington municipal judge. Bluntson is the daughter-in-law of former Jackson Councilman Frank Bluntson who was criticized for allegedly using two city employees to help Barbara Ann Bluntson's campaign during her failed run at Madison County Court Judge in 2010. Clark also serves as attorney for the town of Cruger and Holmes County Board Attorney and is the law partner and brother of state Representative Bryant Clark.
Thirteenth District (Simpson, Smith, Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence) Judge David Shoemake faces a rematch from Larry Buffington. Shoemake defeated Buffington four years ago after the former judge got into hot water by issuing improper subpoenas to county supervisors in an attempt to discover who passed on public information to the media regarding his appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz as an additional youth court public defender. The Mississippi Judicial Performance Commission reported, "Judge Buffington admitted that he had failed to comply with the law when issuing the subpoenas, but did not care." The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a public reprimand and assessed fines to Buffington.
Also in the Thirteenth District, incumbent Judge Joe Dale Walker, facing his own complaint from the Judicial Performance Commission, is not seeking reelection. Collins attorney Mary K. Burnham, Mississippi Department of Human Services attorney Deborah Kennedy, and Gerald Martin of Taylorsville who has served there as Board Attorney, are running for this open seat.
Two of the three incumbents in the Sixteenth District (Jackson, George, Greene) face challenges. In Place 1, incumbent Neil Harris, Sr. is being opposed by Jackson County Board of Supervisors Attorney Paula S. Yancey. Last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a public reprimand and $2500 fine for Harris for violating the due process rights of three people he charged with contempt. Yancey has served as Jackson County's Board Attorney and formerly as county administrator.
Place 3 incumbent Chuck Bordis, IV is being challenged by Michael Fondren and Gary Roberts. Bordis was appointed by Governor Haley Barbour in 2009 after his predecessor, Randy Pierce, won election to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Bordis was unopposed in 2010. Fondren is an attorney in Pascagoula and Roberts is a Gautier city judge whose now ex-wife was involved in a scandal which resulted in the resignation of American Red Cross President Mark Everson.
Both incumbents in the 18th District (Lafayette, Marshall, Benton, Tippah, Calhoun) are being challenged. In Place 1, long-time Judge Glenn Alderson faces Carnelia Pettis Fondren, former Vice-Chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party; and Tina Duggard Scott, who won with 54 percent a special election for Calhoun County Attorney in 2010.
In Place 2, Judge Robert Whitwell faces Helen Kennedy Robinson. Whitwell, a former US Attorney, was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant last year. Robinson lost a challenge to Chancery Judge Edwin Roberts in 2010 with 31 percent of the vote.
The election is November 4 and in any race where one candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a run-off election on November 25. Only three races could potentially go to a run-off.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.