Chancery judge candidates address Columbus Exchange Club members' questions on Thursday while Exchange Club President Ann Marie Langford mediates. From left are Roy A. Perkins, Joe Studdard, Langford, Carrie Jourdan, Gary Goodwin and Paula Drungole-Ellis. Photo by: Hannah Greco/Dispatch Staff
June 29, 2018 10:27:20 AM
In January, the 14th Chancery Court District serving the Golden Triangle will start over with a "fresh slate."
Those are the words of chancery judge candidate Joe Studdard who, along with fellow attorneys Gary Goodwin, Carrie Jourdan, Paula Drungole-Ellis and Roy A. Perkins, are running for a seat as chancery judge in November's election. All five candidates spoke at the Columbus Exchange Club's weekly luncheon Thursday at Lion Hills Center about the upcoming election and the importance of chancery court.
"Each of us needs to encourage people that they have a voice in this," Drungole-Ellis said. "People need us."
The five candidates are all vying for seats that will be vacated by 14th District Chancery Judges Jim Davidson and Dorothy Colom, of subdistricts 14-2 and 14-3 respectively, who will step down at the end of the year with fellow Chancery Judge Kenneth Burns of subdistrict 14-1.
Chancery courts have jurisdiction over disputes in matters involving equity; domestic matters including adoptions, custody disputes and divorces; guardianships; sanity hearings; wills; and challenges to constitutionality of state laws.
And since jury trials are rare in chancery court, decisions about those issues fall to the judges, Jourdan told Exchange Club members, which is why it's important for voters to make their voices heard about who they want on the bench.
"Your fate is decided by one of us, so you've got to elect somebody that you trust and you believe in," Jourdan said.
"Chancery has the most impact (of the courts) on everybody's everyday life," she added. "At some point, all of you are going to be touched by chancery."
Studdard, Jourdan and Goodwin all seek the subdistrict 14-2 seat being vacated by Davidson, which presides over a portion of Clay and Lowndes counties.
Goodwin, a Columbus attorney, has practiced law for nearly 37 years. His experience also includes a brief stint as Lowndes County prosecutor in 1991, serving as a municipal judge from 1994-96 and working as a public defender from 1999-2014. He was brought back as the municipal judge in 2015, which he said he would likely step down from if he wins the election, though he is not required to in order to seek the chancery judicial seat.
Goodwin wants to focus on serving the community in this position.
"In law school, I learned that public service is not only how you get to know people but also how you give back," he said. "... What I've tried to do since then is belong to something and give back."
Studdard, of Columbus, has been practicing law for more than 30 years, including trying the types of cases heard in chancery court. He said his trial knowledge is central to this role.
Studdard has three goals should he be elected for the position: Moving cases quickly to resolution, offering more options and assistance for low-income citizens and continuing mediation outside of the courtroom.
"We have to help those people that can't help themselves," he said.
Jourdan is a Columbus attorney and has practiced law for more than 20 years, including service as a public defender. She said she has a primarily domestic, family and criminal defense practice, and has had a heavy emphasis on family law through her career.
Jourdan argued that her most determining factor for qualification is her life experience, particularly having insight by being a single mother who has been through a divorce herself.
"I think I bring an understanding on what all of this is about," she said.
Drungole-Ellis and Perkins seek the sub-district 14-3 seat, which presides over a portion of Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, as well as all of Noxubee County.
Drungole-Ellis, who has been practicing law for 32 years, is a native to Starkville and has been the current Oktibbeha County youth court judge for nine years. She said that experience will be beneficial and she hopes to continue helping families through the role of chancery judge.
"As the youth court judge, I've had the opportunity to help our young people ... For those children that need protection, I have been there to protect them," Drungole-Ellis said.
Perkins is currently serving his seventh term as Ward 6 alderman and third term as vice mayor on Starkville's Board of Aldermen -- a position he would have to resign from, should he be elected as chancery judge.
Perkins has practiced law for nearly 30 years, and previously served as a staff attorney for the Mississippi House of Representatives and the special assistant attorney general for the former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore.
But he said it's his local government experience that qualifies him for the chancery judgeship.
"My experience is very important to this role," Perkins said. "I try cases in chancery court regularly ... These are the same type of cases that I will be hearing and deciding on."
The Exchange Club of Columbus invited the candidates qualifying for the second and third seat, as these are the two seats that preside over Lowndes county. Elizabeth Ausbern, Gene Barton, R. Todd Bennett, Rodney Faver and Lee Ann Turner have qualified to seek the sub district 14-1 seat, which presides over Chickasaw and Webster counties, and a portion of Oktibbeha County.
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