PERRY/Few circuit challenges
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 1:00 AM
Mississippi voters will elect 53 circuit court judges this November. Thirty-seven incumbents are running unopposed, two incumbents are retiring leaving open seats and fourteen incumbents are being challenged. The elections for these non-partisan seats are on November 4. Four of the sixteen competitive races include more than two candidates and if no one in those campaigns earns more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off will be held November 25.
Circuit District 3, Place 2 is the first of two open seats. Judge Robert Elliott, elected in 2006, is retiring and three candidates are running to take his place: Shirley C. Byers, a former circuit judge in Greenville who lost a run-off to Elliott in 2006 with 33 percent of the vote; Holly Springs city attorney and prosecutor Kizer Jones; and Kelly Luther who has served 18 years as assistant district attorney.
The other open seat is District 4, Place3 where Judge Betty Sanders is retiring after five terms. Seeking to replace her are Leflore County Justice Court Judge James Littleton, assistant district attorney Takiyah Perkins and Sunflower County Public Defender Carol White-Richard.
There are a number of rematches from four years ago.
District 4, Place 1 incumbent Richard Smith defeated George Dunbar Prewitt, Jr. in 2010 with 78 percent of the vote; Prewitt is back for another round.
District 7, Place 1 Judge Jeff Weill defeated Ali M. ShamsidDeen and Bruce Burton four years ago taking 61 percent of the vote. ShamsidDeen, who came in second (25 percent), is challenging Weill again.
District Twenty, Place 1 Circuit Court Judge John Emfinger defeated Craig Brasfield and John Shirley in 2010. Now Emfinger, formerly an assistant district attorney, faces Shirley again. Shirley is currently a Rankin County Justice Court Judge and also serves as a youth court judge and municipal judge in Pearl.
Nearly 70 percent of circuit court judges will be reelected without opposition, one more than four years ago when 36 of 53 incumbents were unopposed. Only two of the ten incumbents challenged for reelection in 2010 lost; this year several incumbents face stiffer competition.
District 2, Place 2 incumbent John C. Gargiulo was first appointed to the bench by Governor Haley Barbour in 2009 and was unopposed for reelection in 2010. There had been some talk he would not seek reelection, but he qualified and has three opponents. Gulfport Municipal Judge Fant Walker seeks to carry on a family tradition: his father was a circuit court judge and now U.S. Federal Magistrate, and his great uncle was Mississippi Chief Justice Harry Walker. Fant's campaign has already raised $175,000 for the race. Two other candidates include Chris Schmidt, who served for fifteen years as assistant district attorney, and Gulfport Councilman Myles Sharp.
Representative Willie Bailey (D-Greenville) is challenging District 4, Place 4 incumbent Ashley Hines. Bailey formerly served as city judge in Leland.
District 8, Place 1 Judge Marcus Gordon, a 35-year incumbent, is being challenged by Don Kilgore, Attorney General for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
District Thirteen Circuit Court Judge Eddie Bowen grabbed headlines in 2012 when he ruled Mississippi's $1 million cap on noneconomic damages, a major provision in the state's comprehensive tort reform, was unconstitutional. He is being challenged by Reggie Blackledge, a former municipal prosecutor, public defender, municipal judge and Covington County Justice Court Judge.
Eighteenth District Circuit Court Judge Billy Joe Landrum faces four challengers and is under an active investigation by the State Auditor's Office. His pro-plaintiff rulings put his district on the Judicial Hellhole Watch List by the American Tort Reform Association.
While not every local race gains statewide attention, they're no less competitive and will certainly grab local headlines.
In District 1, Place 2 three-term incumbent Paul. S. Funderburk is being challenged by Mantachie attorney Dennis H. Farris, Sr.
District 9, Place 2 Judge Jim Chaney, appointed by Governor Barbour in 2009 and unopposed for reelection in 2010, is being challenged by bankruptcy attorney Eddie Woods of Vicksburg.
District 11, Place 3 incumbent Charles E. Webster is being challenged by Cleveland attorney Chaka D. Smith.
Judge Bob Helfrich in District 12 faces opponent Chad Shook, a Hattiesburg attorney.
Judge Tony Mozingo seeks reelection to a second term in District 15, Place 1 against Picayune attorney Jim Gray.
Judge Lee Coleman, formerly of the Mississippi House of Representatives, faces a challenge in District 16, Place 3 from Columbus attorney Monique Montgomery.
Circuit court judges preside over criminal prosecutions and civil litigation and hear appeals from county, justice and municipal courts as well as administrative boards and commissions. Judges serve four year terms.
In addition to circuit judges, Mississippi will also elect chancery judges, appeals court judges (three incumbents all unopposed) and 30 county court judges in 21 counties. U.S. Senate and House of Representatives races are also on the ballot.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at email@example.com or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.