Come Friday, Lowndes County Administrator Jay Fisher will have to start answering his own office phone, at least for a while.
That’s the day Carley Estes, his administrative assistant and right-hand person for the past year, will move into her new role as lead clerk for Justice Court.
For Estes, the move is something of a return to her roots. After graduating from West Point High School, she took a class in legal studies at East Mississippi Community College’s campus in Mayhew that compelled her to pursue the field as her major at the Mississippi University for Women.
While earning her bachelor’s degree, she interned for a law firm where she assisted public defenders in criminal proceedings. After graduation, she worked five years for District Attorney Scott Colom’s office as its victims’ advocate for Lowndes County.
So when longtime Justice Court clerk Linder Erby retired in May, Estes saw that position as a natural fit.
“That was really my reason for applying because it got me back in that field,” Estes said. “I feel confident going over there because of my education background and because I’ve seen (the criminal justice system) from both sides.”
In Justice Court, Estes will supervise an office of six other clerks, as well as work alongside three Justice Court judges and three constables — sitting in on proceedings and keeping records for the court that handles misdemeanor and small civil cases that originate in the county outside Columbus city limits, as well as initial appearances for felonies before they are transferred to circuit court.
For a position like that, organizational skills are key, and that’s an area where Fisher said Estes thrives.
“She’s super organized,” Fisher said. “She takes notes for every meeting, every procedure.”
But that certainly wasn’t the only area where she excelled that can go with her to Justice Court, Fisher said. Her reputation at the DA’s office helped county leaders choose Estes from among nine applicants in 2021 for her current role in Fisher’s office. In that job, he said, she has exuded both care and competency.
“She knows how to put people at ease, and the people who dealt with her felt so confident she could get things done that they started seeking her out,” Fisher said. “She became kind of a jack of all trades here because she was often dealing with calls from people asking her about things that weren’t necessarily county operations. Even when it wasn’t, she always had a good attitude and genuinely tried to point people in the right direction.”
That urge to help others is a central part of who Estes is, she said, and her time at the DA’s office cemented that as her career focus — whether it was assisting with a support group of family members grieving lost loved ones to violent crime or staying by victims’ sides through the legal process.
“At a dark time in their lives, I wanted to be a positive light,” she said. “You really build a bond with them, and the best part was to see them get a happy outcome in court. That’s what helped me continue to move forward.”
Though Fisher will miss Estes’ impact at his office, he said she is the “right person” for the Justice Court job.
“She’s sensitive to what people are going through, and she is used to dealing with folks on not their best day,” he said. “… Somebody (for Fisher’s office) with the organizational skills Carley has will be very hard to find.”
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.