PERRY/Court districts could change
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 12:00 AM
Mississippi elects chancery court, circuit court, county and three court of appeals judges this year. Many have already qualified to run for reelection, a few have challengers, and the deadline to qualify is May 6. That deadline and the dynamics of many races may change thanks to the required redistricting of these districts by the Mississippi legislature this session.
House Bill 1026 would change the qualifying deadline to September 5 to allow for a number of district changes. The bill would increase the number of circuit court judges in District 12 (Forrest and Perry Counties) from one to two and the in District 15 (Lawrence, Jefferson Davis, Marion, Lamar and Pearl River Counties) from two to three. District 20 would be a Rankin County only district, splitting Madison County off into a new District 23 with two judges. The new district attorney for Madison County would be appointed by the governor. The bill also increases legal assistants in a number of jurisdictions.
On the chancery court side, the measure would add a judge in DeSoto County in District 3 (Desoto, Tate and Panola Counties) increasing the district's judges from three to four. District 4 (Franklin, Amite, Pike, Walthall Counties) would also gain an additional judge from one to two. District 9 (Sunflower, Washington, Humphreys, Sharkey, Issaquena, Warren) would lose Humphreys County and District 11 (Madison, Leake, Holmes, Yazoo) would lose Holmes and Yazoo Counties and those three counties would be part of the newly created District 21.
Senate Bill 2474 would make a change in the circuit court districts by removing Wayne County from District 10 (currently Kemper, Lauderdale, Clarke and Wayne Counties) and moving it into District 18 which currently consists of only Jones County.
Both bills make other sub-district changes to reflect population shifts from the previous census.
House Bill 1026 passed the House on February 11 and is now in the Senate Judiciary-A committee. Senate Bill 2474 passed the Senate on February 6 and has been amended in the House Judiciary-A committee.
As this column has noted in the past, many circuit and chancery court judges face little to no opposition in their elections; the power of incumbency is strong particularly because lawyers tend to not want to challenge a sitting judge in whose court they may have cases. Four years ago, 43 of the 49 chancery judges were unopposed with one incumbent winning posthumously. There were only four open and contested seats. Only two incumbent chancellors faced a challenge: one won; one lost.
On the circuit court level, 36 of 53 judges were unopposed last cycle. Seven open seats were contested. Ten incumbents faced a challenge but only two lost.
That means during the last election for these judges, 77 percent of chancery and circuit court judges faced no opposition and of the incumbents who faced a challenge only 3 lost.
The court of appeals districts appear to remain intact and all three incumbents have filed to seek reelection and are so far unopposed: Jimmy Maxwell, Kenny Griffis and Virginia Carlton.
Maxwell, of Oxford, was appointed to the Court in 2009 by Governor Haley Barbour and elected in 2010 without opposition. A former federal prosecutor, Maxwell was recognized by the Department of Justice and the DEA for his efforts to curb drug and gun crime. His district is the "old" First District in Northeast Mississippi.
Griffis, a Meridian native, first won his seat in a special election in 2002 by defeating Jim Brantley who was appointed to the bench by Governor Ronnie Musgrove following the resignation of Judge Mary Libby Payne. Griffis won with 56 percent of the vote. He was unopposed for reelection in 2006. His district is the "old Third Congressional District" with all or part of nineteen counties including Lauderdale, Rankin, some of Madison, north up to Clay and south into Jones.
Carlton, formerly a Republican state legislator, won her seat in a 2006 election where she led the field against four opponents with 33.1 percent of the vote and then defeated Ed Patten, Jr. with 53.9 percent of the vote in the run-off. Carlton is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and served as a JAG officer for twenty years in the Army and has in recent years served a military judge. Her district is the "old Fourth Congressional District" including all or part of fifteen counties including Hinds and south to the Louisiana line, from Adams and Wilkinson east into Jones.
The first periodic campaign finance report for candidates is May 9.
Increasing the number of circuit and chancery judges could increase the number of competitive races this November, or could reduce them as potential candidates will not have to challenge incumbents. What changes the legislature makes in coming weeks could impact these races across the state.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.