January 11, 2018 11:12:24 AM
More candidates, including two from Columbus and one from Starkville, have qualified to seek judicial seats on the Mississippi 14th Chancery District Court.
In total, eight candidates have now qualified for the non-partisan election, which is set for Nov. 6
The new candidates come in the subdistrict 14-1 and 14-2 seats. For the subdistrict 14-3 seat, Paula Drungole-Ellis and Roy A. Perkins have qualified to seek election.
Three judges -- Kenneth Burns, Dorothy W. Colom and H.J. Davidson -- preside over the 14th Chancery District Court. All have announced their intention to retire at the end of the present term, leaving three seats for candidates to fill.
Gary Goodwin and Carrie Jourdan have qualified to seek the subdistrict 14-2 seat, which Davidson currently holds and which presides over a portion of Clay and Lowndes counties.
Goodwin, a Columbus attorney, has practiced law for nearly 37 years. He has a private practice office in Columbus and said much of his practice has been there.
His experience also includes a brief stint as Lowndes County prosecutor to fill out part of a term in 1991, serving as a municipal judge in 1994-96 and working as a public defender for 1999-2014.
In 2015, the city council named Goodwin municipal judge, a position he still holds today. He said he's not required to step down to seek the chancery judicial seat, but will likely do so if he wins the election.
"I'd need to devote my full time to that," he said. "Chancery court would probably require my full attention and more."
Goodwin said he's worked for many years in chancery court. He also said he thinks his experience in part-time judicial posts will help, should he gain a seat on the bench.
"As a judge it's just really different," he said. "It is a practice of law, but you draw on your experience to apply the law correctly. You have to be patient with the parties to get the facts out.
"Different than practicing law, because in practicing law you want to get your facts out and be an advocate," Goodwin added. "As a judge, you're an advocate for the system. You want to bring justice for the parties regardless of who they are."
Jourdan, a Columbus attorney, has practiced law for more than 20 years. She said she has a primarily domestic, family and criminal defense practice, and has had a heavy emphasis on family law through her career.
She said her own personal experiences have also contributed to her experience in practicing, and potentially as a judge.
"I was a young, single divorced mother when I put myself through law school and started this law practice," Jourdan said. "I think I had a unique perspective on problems that face today's families.
"I think that's what drew me to it and what's made me a good at it and what would make me a good judge," she added. "I don't just practice law. I've lived it."
Jourdan said she believes attorneys who have practiced family law and tried a lot of cases tend to make the best judges. She said she also felt the need to be involved, and decided to seek the chancellor's seat.
She said she also feels her experience could help make the court more accessible.
"Our system is not user-friendly, and it could be a lot more user-friendly, both for the lawyers and their clients," she said.
Jourdan also emphasized that, as a non-partisan election, the focus should be on how judges will apply the law.
"The emphasis isn't on what party you belong to, but doing right by the families and the community," she said. "It shouldn't matter what party you belong to. You ought to be able to apply the law for the best interests of families and the community."
Houston attorney R. Todd Bennett and Okolona attorney Gene Barton have qualified to seek the subdistrict 14-1 seat, which Judge Kenneth Burns currently holds. Starkville attorney and municipal judge Rodney Faver has also recently qualified to seek the seat.
Lee Ann Turner, a Starkville attorney, previously qualified for the seat.
The 14-1 seat presides over Chickasaw and Webster counties, and a portion of Oktibbeha County.
Barton has practiced law for 39 years. His experience includes time as a youth court prosecutor and a public defender. Barton began serving as the city attorney for the city of Okolona in 2005, a role he still holds, and also serves as the city prosecutor.
He was also elected county prosecutor for Chickasaw County in 2015.
Barton also served a term as an alderman in Tupelo after being elected to the seat in 1985.
Through his career, Barton has gone before the state supreme court to argue several cases. He said he also handled mental and drug commitments in chancery court while he practiced law in Pontotoc.
He said he hopes to draw on his depth of experience, if elected.
"I've done just about everything you can do in chancery court," he said. "I've handled just about every kind of case. I felt this would be an appropriate way to finish my career, serving as a judge.
"In 39 years, you do and see a lot," he added. "I'm familiar with issues of children and the need to protect children in chancery court. I'm familiar with the need to protect adults who have mental and drug issues."
R. Todd Bennett
Bennett has practiced law for about 10 years. He said he's got a broad range of experience.
"In a town the size of Houston, you kind of have to do whatever walks in the door," he said.
Bennett said his father worked as a city judge and youth court judge. He said he also grew up around judges, and has been close to Burns.
"I've always been around these judges and known the different aspects of judgeships," Bennett said. "Chancery was where my passions fell more toward. If there was ever a time when I was going to run for judgeship, it'd be chancery."
Faver has served as Starkville's municipal judge since 2009. He could not be reached for comment by press time.
The 14th Chancery District serves Chickasaw, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Webster counties.
Qualifications for the non-partisan election, which is set for Nov. 6, opened on Jan. 2.
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