‘Here to fix’: DA-elect shaping new team

Published 11:12 am Saturday, December 9, 2023

NATCHEZ — In recent weeks the District Attorney-elect Tim Cotton has been putting together a team of qualified leaders to shape the new office.

Cotton and other county elected officials will be sworn in at 9 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 22, at the Adams County Safe Room.

This week, Municipal Court Judge Lisa Dale announced plans to step down from the bench to work as an assistant district attorney with Cotton.

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Also signing as ADAs are Matt Kidder, who is currently a staff attorney in Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell’s office, and attorney Will Halford from Meadville.

Halford said January starts his seventh year of law practice.

He is currently the board attorney for the City of Meadville in addition to working for his family law firm. He earned his undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University and graduated from law school at Mississippi College in 2017. While waiting for his bar results, Halford also worked as a legal intern in the U.S. House of Representatives for Congressman Gregg Harper.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything and have seen every area of practice,” Halford said.

During his undergraduate years, Halford said becoming a prosecutor was his dream.

“I was pre-med and backed off from that because I wanted to be a prosecutor. That is why I went to law school,” he said. “I’m very excited and honored to have this opportunity and (Cotton) and I work together very well. I feel both of us are working toward a common goal.”

Dale also brings nearly 35 years of law experience to the DA’s office.

“She is an excellent litigator,” Cotton said. “I’ve observed her from the bench for years and she has done an excellent job of that. Her ability to pay attention to detail is absolutely phenomenal. She has been successful in her practice, successful as a city judge and successful as a prosecutor. I’m giving her the opportunity to serve in a different capacity.”

Cotton said he is also bringing on Frank Smith, currently part of the Criminal Investigation Division of Adams County Sheriff’s Office, to handle investigations. Smith brings over 30 years of investigative experience to the DA’s office and is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Cotton said he is fortunate to have Smith on his team.

“He is honest, straightforward and demands the absolute most out of everybody around him,” Cotton said.

Smith spent seven years in the Marine Corps before starting at ACSO in 1991 and climbed his way through the ranks from jailer to patrol officer, K9 officer, commander of narcotics, to leading the investigative division.

“I have been there 32 years. It’s been a long time,” Smith said. “I’ve worked for several sheriffs over the years and I appreciate all of them individually for allowing me to be a part of their administration.”

Smith’s new role at the DA’s office will put him less on the front end of a crime and more on the side of presenting it to the court.

“Hopefully my experience can assist with bridging the relationship between law enforcement and the DA’s office in the four different counties,” Smith said. “I’ve known Tim for years and have always respected him professionally and as a person. I’m excited to work with him and work toward accomplishing the goals that he has set.”

Joining the new DA on the victim’s advocacy side is Sara Delaney, who has worked in Chancery Clerk Brandi Lewis’s office for six years as a Deputy Clerk.

Delaney also has worked as an office manager for Southwest Mississippi Mental Health for 10 years.

As the victim’s assistance coordinator, Delaney’s role will encompass anything that helps the victims of a crime, from providing for their mental health needs to retrieval of compensation funds and keeping constant communication with them regarding court dates.

“In my current role, I have dealt with the mentally ill on the commitment side when someone needs hospitalization,” she said. “I know how to help those in dire need, which would be the victims of a crime. I would go above and beyond to help them.”

Mississippi is putting more and more focus on mental health, Cotton said, adding, “She is compassionate and fit for the role of dealing with families and victims of a crime.”

Delaney said to her the move is just a stepping stone from her current position.

“I’m a creature of habit so it’s hard to leave where I am now but I’m very excited,” she said.

Cotton said ideally he would have an ADA assigned to each county in his district — Adams, Amite, Franklin, and Wilkinson — “because we want law enforcement to get comfortable with an ADA that is going to be working in those counties.”

However, Cotton said it will take time to sort through the backlog of old cases and build the DA’s office to what it needs to be, adding “Not everyone is going to be happy at first.”

“What we’re going in to do is to fix something,” he said. “Everybody here has played a part in that since the election ended. We could use more help but there are only so many spots available. To do what we’re doing with what we got now is a big step. … I’m proud of the thing that we’re putting together and I can’t wait to see how it works moving forward.”