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In their own words: Justice court judge candidates address issues

NATCHEZ — Today The Natchez Democrat profiles candidates for Adams County Justice Court Judge positions in both the Northern and Southern districts.

Each district race has three candidates, including the incumbents in both positions.

Incumbent Northern District Justice Court Judge Patricia Dunmore did not respond to the questionnaire and could not be reached. Therefore, she is the only candidate not included in this profile.

All of the candidates, with the exception of Southern District candidate Danny Barber, who is running as an independent, are running as Democrats, and will be on the Aug. 6 primary ballots. Any necessary primary runoffs will be Aug. 27.

Therefore, the Northern District Justice Court Judge race will be decided in the August Democratic Party primary and Barber will be on the Nov. 5 general election ballot to face the winner of the August Democratic Party primary for the Southern District position.

Justice Court Judge Northern District

1. Why should Adams County voters elect you to serve in the Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Audrey B. Minor: Adams County voters should elect me to serve in the Justice Court Judge Northern District position because I’m the only candidate in the race that has 22 years of experience in justice court.

I was hired in 1997 as administrative assistant to the Judges; I then assumed the positions of civil, criminal and traffic clerks. In 2009, I was appointed by the Adams County Board of Supervisors as the Clerk of Court where I oversee four employees and manage the office as well as the financial matters. I am honest, fair, punctual and well trained for the position.

Eddie Jones: I have demonstrated accountability and fairness in serving the citizens of Natchez and Adams County for 35 years as a policeman and a teacher for the Natchez Adams School District.

2. What are the two main objectives you would want to accomplish if elected to the Adams County Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Audrey B. Minor: The first objective that I would want to accomplish is making sure all citizens are treated fairly, meaning that the judge needs to hear both sides of the story to make a fair and just decision. Cases should be resolved by making the best decision with the evidence that’s presented to them. Secondly, is to make sure all cases are determined at a reasonable time. Cases are not to sit around for long periods without a ruling.

Eddie Jones: Two main objectives are to work with the citizens and other elected officials of this community to improve the community for us all. Secondly, to improve the efficiency of the court by updating the current system of storing and tracking court records.

3. What is the biggest issue facing the Adams County Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Audrey B. Minor: The biggest issue facing the Adams County Justice Court Judge Northern District is when we have high-risk inmates in the courtroom and there is not a security scanner to check spectators who are there for the case. This is a high concern for all involved.

Eddie Jones: I believe we have a problem in fine collections. It is important to implement a system that assures money owed to the county is collected. Individuals must pay their fines.

4. What experience do you have that uniquely qualifies you for the Adams County Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Audrey B. Minor: My experiences are that for the last 22 years, I have been employed at Justice Court. I’ve held the title of administrative assistant to the Justice Court Judges where I was in court with them every week for 10 years. I’ve learned the rules and regulations of the way court is handled and also the laws as they changed through the Legislature. The last 10 years, as Justice Court Clerk, it is mandatory to go to training twice a year by the Judicial College on all new laws introduced and passed through the Legislature. The Justice Court Judges have the same training.

Eddie Jones: My qualifications include three years serving my country in the United States Army earning a Purple Heart during my service in the Vietnam War. Twenty-five years protecting the citizens with the Natchez Police Department, including four years as the Chief of Police. Then 12 years as a teacher working to improve the health of our young people.

5. Recent public perception seems to be that Justice Court Judges are too lenient? Do you agree or disagree with that perception? Why, or why not?

Audrey B. Minor: My answer would be no. I do not agree with this perception. The Justice Court Judges are not circuit, chancery or county court judges and the cases are not structured like those are. The justice court consists of misdemeanor, civil and traffic cases. The felony cases in the county start with the arraignment and bonds in Justice Court but are usually bound over to the circuit court so those cases are out of our hands. The Justice Court Judges can only give sentences in misdemeanor cases and you shall go by the Legislature’s laws in setting those sentences.

Eddie Jones: I have no personal knowledge of leniency in the court system. I would hope that all elected officials would treat all citizens as an individual with close attention to the details of the situation before making a judgment. I take this time to thank The Natchez Democrat for the opportunity to express my desire to serve the citizens once again. I also thank the voters for considering me and vote to elect me as Northern District Judge.

 

Justice Court Judge Southern District

1. Why should Adams County voters elect you to serve in the Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Danny Barber: I was elected justice court judge in 1992 and served three unopposed terms in office until 2004. The 2000 census showed Adams County had a significant drop in population. Therefore, Adams County had a reduction in judges from three to two and my district was eliminated. If this hadn’t happened, I would probably still be the sitting judge. I have 12 years experience with over 500 hours judicial training by the Mississippi Judicial College and the American Judicial College for judges. I took this position very seriously and served the people with integrity, firmness and fairness. I have a great insight from being a law enforcement officer for 24 years from patrol officer to criminal investigator from arrest to presenting cases before the courts. I’m a pretty good judge of character and that means a lot when hearing a case. I have a proven record for not releasing violent offenders back on the streets after being charged. Experience and proven record means a lot.

Lee Anthony Ford Sr.: I am a God-fearing man, a U.S. Army Veteran of three years with experience and knowledge of law for over 37 years. I am a Natchez native, love the citizens of Adams County and will be dedicated to enforce and protect its citizens. I will promote innovating ideas and work with the police department and sheriff’s office. We will exemplify positive change taking Natchez-Adams from being the fifth most dangerous place in the state to being the safest. There is more than $2 million in unpaid fines. I will get a task force to collect some of these unpaid fines. This will take some of the burdens off of the taxpayers. The time has arrived for me to seek this elected office for positive solution, and a zero tolerance of crime. For example, by becoming more involved in youth programs, I hope to see the statistics of shootings and escalating deaths decline. Please give me the opportunity to serve.

Eileen Maher: Adams County voters should re-elect me, because I am the most qualified candidate. I have served in the position since November 2017 and during that time I have worked diligently to ensure that the court is in compliance with the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure inaugurated in July 2017. Justice Court now has an attorney assigned to handle misdemeanor cases for indigent defendants. Justice Court now has the ability to offer non-adjudication petitions for first-time offenders of non-violent misdemeanors.

On the civil side, I have instituted policies to keep the docket flowing smoothly with the least amount of wait time for litigants to get their cases to court, to be heard in court and to receive prompt judgments without undue delays to take matters under advisement.

The most important thing I have done in Justice Court is to create an atmosphere of discipline and respect.

2. What are the two main objectives you would want to accomplish if elected to the Adams County Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Danny Barber: In 1992, I created the Adams County Work Program. This program allowed those that were convicted of misdemeanor crimes who were unemployed to work off their fines and sometimes replace jail sentences. This program was a great success
and many thousands of dollars of outstanding fines were taken off the books. After I left office this program faded away. I also sentenced individuals to a lot of community service work … in lieu of jail…. I will reinstate these two programs…. Secondly, due to recent violent crimes in Adams County I will send a strong message to all offenders it will not be a “Catch and Release” court. I have always held this court in high regards and I command full control of this court…. Not all people are bad who come before you … Sometimes the court needs to admonish the offender and set them on the right road….

Lee Anthony Ford Sr.: If elected, I will deter crime and restore a safe community by imposing sanctions and prosecuting misdemeanor and true-to-life bonds on felonies with no exceptions. … I will make a commitment to use the tools at my disposal to combat the violence epidemic that is plaguing Adams County and aggressively prosecute those individuals committing heinous felonies while holding them accountable for the damage to our environment, endangering our health and quality of life. Moreover eradicating violent crime of felons with firearms … aggressive prosecution of street gangs also remains a core component of my strategy. In 1991, I was a narcotics agent, made a bust of a young man with a large sum of uncut cocaine. As a result of this bust, my home was severely shot up, but to no avail, I serve a great God! My family was not hurt and all participants were arrested. This revealed His presence. …

Eileen Maher:  The first main objective I want to accomplish is to create alternative specialty courts for misdemeanor offenders. Drug courts, mental health courts and veterans’ courts ensure public safety, promote justice and punish and prevent criminal behavior.  These courts prevent the jailing and/or excessive fining of offenders with drug addictions, mental health issues and issues stemming from military duty.

The second main objective is to establish a pro bono panel of lawyers who are willing to help indigent clients in civil cases.

3. What is the biggest issue facing the Adams County Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Danny Barber: “Catch and Release.” Judges need to set the proper bonds the first time on violent offenders and look at the prior criminal history. Setting low bonds making it easy for the violent offender to get out and commit another crime and then getting arrested again and then setting the proper bond is ridiculous. I will be a full-time judge that will be available at all times. Attorney judges presently schedule their court dates around their private civil practice in higher courts. If they have a civil case in another court they will cancel the justice court cases to fit their agenda. Therefore, this causes clients in justice court time and money to have to reappear at another date after taking off work and some not being able to show up the next time. This also cost the taxpayers money because the clerk has to mail notices of new court dates at taxpayers’ expense.

Lee Anthony Ford Sr.: The biggest issue facing the position of Justice Court Judge is responsibility and accountability. A judge must have a plan to ensure efficiency by insisting on responsibility and accountability in the criminal justice system. This court presides over a myriad of matters from traffic tickets to hearing matters of civil and misdemeanor cases. It is pertinent that the more serious the crime, the more serious the punishment. However, sometimes, the judge is able to enhance or reduce a sentence based upon factors specific to the crime and the defendant

Eileen Maher: The biggest issue facing the Adams County Justice Court is physical safety. There are no metal detectors in Justice Court. There is insufficient seating for the volume of business done there. The courtroom is cramped and crowded with the chairs too close together, and the lawyers barely have space to get in and out of the room to consult with their clients. There are no private areas where lawyers can consult with their clients. The room temperature is consistently too warm, making everyone uncomfortable. There is a system in place for video arraignments from the jail that the court staff cannot utilize due to computer issues. When we have an emotionally charged preliminary hearing, we have to limit drastically the numbers of people who can be in the courtroom. Those hearings should be open to the public.

4. What experience do you have that uniquely qualifies you for the Adams County Justice Court Judge position you are seeking?

Danny Barber: I served as the Southeastern District Judge from 1992-2004. I have over 500 hours judicial training from the Mississippi Judicial College and the American Judicial College for Judges. These colleges keep the judges updated on all changes in the laws. I have 24 years experience as a law enforcement officer that has taken me from the time of arrest  to the offender being prosecuted in the courts. This alone has given me great insight of the entire Criminal Justice System.

Lee Anthony Ford Sr.: For over 40 years, I have worked diligently in law enforcement for positive change … in Adams County and the Miss-Lou. My achieved trainings … include U.S. Army, receiving honors for Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, Good Conduct Ribbon, and Basic Leadership Course, etc. … Studied at Hinds Junior College Criminal Justice, Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson Police Academy, USM narcotics identification, Bureau of Narcotics Agents Training Academy; DEA Agents Training Academy; Mississippi Highway Patrol Intoxilyzer Training; Dangerous Gangs & Kinesics Interrogation No. 1; Mississippi Narcotics Trafficking & Clandestine Labs & Forfeiture; FBI firearms instructors; Mississippi Drug Agents Kinesics Interrogation No. 2; K-9 Detection Dog Handler Training La.; Death and Murder Crime Scene Investigations … Just to name a few.

Eileen Maher: My unique experience is that I am the only lawyer on the ballot and the incumbent. I have been the Justice Court judge for the Southern District since the special election in 2017. Additionally, I am a registered nurse licensed in Mississippi and Louisiana. I am also a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner licensed in Mississippi. My experience and training afford me the ability to handle all the matters and people who come before me as defendants in criminal cases and litigants in civil cases.

5. Recent public perception seems to be that Justice Court Judges are too lenient? Do you agree or disagree with that perception? Why, or why not?

Danny Barber: I fully agree. The justice court has always been known as the “People’s Court,” which means that non-lawyer judges with the proper training and good common sense can hear the cases and make the right decisions. Non-lawyer judges take more interest in the court, because they want to become a better judge. Attorneys are mainly concerned about popping in and out and pursuing their private practice putting Justice Court second. The judges have set low bonds on violent offenses and the offenders are released back on the streets committing more offenses re-arrested and finally getting the correct bond. Now that it’s election year the judges are setting the proper bonds and giving stiff sentences. I was a judge that made firm decisions with integrity and protected the citizens of Adams County.

Lee Anthony Ford Sr.: I do not want to be critical of any other candidate serving in this position or in the past. However, I do believe and agree that the perception of leniency in the Justice Court system is true. There are too many repeat offenders never being prosecuted to the fullest. In reference to misdemeanors, many defendants served no time behind Adams County jail bars. People in Adams County are tired of being victims. … It is time for someone to take a stand for Adams County and that someone is me. “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good just because it’s accepted by a majority,” a great man once said. With your vote, you all can hire or fire. You can see how past judges have allowed the Justice Court System to get out of control. … Give me a chance and you will see a significant change in the Justice Court system. …

Eileen Maher: I disagree. No judge can satisfy everyone. And the judicial canons specifically dictate that judicial candidates shall not, “make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.”

The most that a competent, intelligent candidate can promise is to consider each case carefully, applying the law to the facts. This is what I have done as a justice court judge since November 2017.

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