Supervisors hear justice court district debate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Those who qualified to run for justice court judge and constable in what was the county’s Southeastern District should be given the opportunity to requalify, incumbent Judge Charlie Vess told Adams County supervisors Monday.

As of the 2000 Census, Adams County’s population dropped below 35,000, and under state law counties of fewer than 35,000 people can only have two justice court judges and two constables.

A bill that would have allowed the county to keep three districts &045; Northern, Southern and Southeastern &045; died in committee during the legislative session that ended Sunday.

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The county had drawn up two redistricting plans &045; one with three districts and one with two &045; to submit to the Justice Department for its approval. During their Monday meeting, supervisors approved submitting the two-district plan.

During a Monday hearing supervisors held on the plan, Vess pointed out that, under the two-district plan, his district would cover the vast majority of Adams County &045; making campaigning difficult.

Vess also pointed out that six candidates had already qualified to run as justice court judge as of the March 1 qualifying deadline.

One candidate who said Monday she will withdraw from the race is Southeastern District justice court judge candidate Audrey Minor Bailey, who works as a clerk in justice court.

With only two districts remaining, she would have been located in the Northern District and would have been forced to run against sitting Northern District Justice Court Judge Mary Lee Toles, who now has no opposition.

Vess pointed out that &uot;all the (five remaining Southeastern District) candidates would now be in the Southern District,&uot; forcing him to run against them as well as David Gaude, who has already qualified in the Southern District.

&uot;Nobody who throws their hat in the ring signs up to lose. Each individual has a campaign strategy&uot; that could be skewed by the change, Vess said.

&uot;If there are going to be only two districts, (Southeastern District) candidates should have the chance to requalify at no cost,&uot; he said, adding that, given the option, some candidates might choose to switch parties or not run at all.

Incumbent Southeastern District Constable Danny Rollins, who qualified for reelection, said after the hearing that he also favors requalifying.

Toles, however, told supervisors she is not in favor of requalifying. As far as switching parties is concerned, she said, &uot;they must have known what party they wanted&uot; when qualifying the first time.

In any case, County Attorney Marion Smith said during Monday’s hearing that the election commissioners or the courts, not supervisors, would be responsible for deciding whether to hold requalification.

Election Commission Larry Gardner said Monday his office is not authorized to take such action.

He referred questions to the Secretary of State’s Election Division, where a spokesman could not be reached for comment Monday.

Both Vess and Toles questioned why a legislation to allow Adams County to retain three justice court and constables districts was not introduced before this year instead of 2001, when county officials became aware of the problem.

&uot;Somebody dropped the ball,&uot; Vess said.

&uot;Let’s pick it back up,&uot; Toles added.

Supervisors Vice President Darryl Grennell has said supervisors were assured by state Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, in 2001 that the county’s three-district status wasn’t in danger.

&uot;I don’t know what happened Š with our legislative delegation,&uot; Grennell said Monday. &uot;I do know that the ball was not dropped by this board.&uot;

In an interview earlier this year, Dearing said he only told supervisors that the change would not affect them immediately because 2001 was not an election year.

Dearing had no further comment Monday except to say that &uot;we did the best we could when the Legislature went into session, but (the amendment) died in conference. I’m sorry there’s finger pointing.&uot;