Adams County legal community gathers for hanging of official portrait of Hon. John N. Hudson

Published 3:07 pm Thursday, December 21, 2023

NATCHEZ — “Be just and merciful and brave.” — C.S. Lewis

For years, that was a quote Judge John N. Hudson used to close his emails.

Katie Boone, who is a defender in Adams County Youth Court and who worked with Hudson when he was county and youth court judge here, said those are words she witnessed him live by.

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“I’ve known him for 15 years now, and I’ve gotten to observe him a lot of times being just those things,” she told a crowd gathered Tuesday morning in the county courtroom for the hanging of the official portrait of Hudson.

Walt Brown, current county and youth court judge, and others decided it was time for Hudson’s photo to hang next to that of the late Hon. Robert A. Bonds, who was a long-time county court judge.

Natchez photographer Mark Coffey took the photo of Hudson in 2009.

Brown said Hudson served for 32 years as a county court judge, “a pretty impressive feat.”

Soon after retiring, the Mississippi Supreme Court appointed Hudson its Jurist in Residence, the first for Mississippi and one of only three in the country, including Texas and California. As such, Hudson serves as the state Supreme Court’s liaison between referees and youth court judges in all 82 counties of the state.

Brown read from a letter from the state Supreme Court describing Hudson.

“He is a leader and innovator in youth court reform. On a state level, he has played a significant role in the expansion of community services to meet the educational, emotional and physical needs of delinquent, abused and neglected children in the community and the juvenile justice system,” Brown read.

He said Hudson developed one of the first of five adolescent offender programs in the state, began the first juvenile drug court in the state and one of the first two family drug courts in the state. Hudson also began the first regional family first resource centers in the state, providing parenting and character resources. Hudson also developed a GED program in the Youth Court System, as well as CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children here.

Natchez Attorney Scott Slover, who is the attorney for the county board of supervisors, called Hudson his mentor.

Slover’s first job here was as a youth court offender for Hudson. He said he learned much from working with Hudson.

“Youth court is a place where the law can interject itself and save people’s lives. Judge Hudson took that very seriously,” Slover said.

He said the Youth Court facility is a legacy to Hudson’s work.

“In Adams County, we didn’t have that facility right there,” Slover said, pointing across the street from the courthouse to the corner of State and Pearl streets.

“We didn’t have a good juvenile detention center. He built that. He got it done, which is a huge achievement, but it was also a huge achievement keeping it,” he said. “That right there is a really big legacy for you in the justice system in Adams County.”

Boone said Hudson was many times forced to make unpopular decisions, but did so bravely, knowing it was the right thing to do.

“It doesn’t matter who he has to go up against. It could be the president of the United States. If Judge thinks something is right, he is going to stand his ground and he has done that many times for the children of our state, and the children of our county,” she said. “A lot of times, that means he must make the unpopular decision, because believe it or not, kids don’t vote. So a lot of times their issues aren’t as important as they should be. But Judge has always stood in that place to fight for children.”

Boone said “be merciful” is the favorite part of Hudson’s quote for her “because we all need grace. Judge shows such mercy to so many. So many times he showed grace to a family who just needed that one more shot, one more time to get it together so they could be a reunited family. So many times a kid just needed to go to detention for 90 days, but really and truly they were just crying out, just needed attention, even if it was negative. Judge was excellent at noticing that and identifying it and then addressing it with mercy.

“Getting to observe him live by quote has been a true honor for me and I have learned so much from him.” Boone said.

Hudson thanked those gathered — former and current attorneys, former staff members, those from Child Protective Services whose work he lauded, and former and current judges, including U.S District Court Senior Judge David Bramlette III.

“I’ve lived a blessed life. I think I’ve been blessed by God to have had this particular position,” Hudson said. “As a young lawyer, I was trying to find my way, and the opportunity arose and I took this position. In doing so, I felt like I was marrying my vocation with my avocation. And I loved it.”

He gave accolades to the people who have worked with him throughout the years.

“Let me say from the very beginning that I think the greatest talent that I’ve had over the years is not starting all these programs that Walt talked about. I’m very proud of that, but I’m not the one that started them. My greatest talent was to surround myself and our office with can-do people — people who knew how to get it done. I was always able to turn those programs over to them and with the amazing creativity and amazing innovation on their part, we brought into existence all these programs together,” Hudson said.

He said he thinks God put him on this earth to do the work he did in Adams County Youth Court. Hudson became emotional when discussing a child who, because of the work of staffers at Child Protective Services, what removed from a terrible situation and given an opportunity to grow and thrive.

He described years later getting a graduation announcement in the mail. He opened it and read the name, but was at a loss, until a photo fell out of the envelope. The young man had written, “I knew you would not recognize my name, so I included this photo. Thank you for giving me hope.”

“That will put gas in your tank for years,” Hudson said. “It was those people who gave him hope and gave him a life and a connection. One kid, one family at a time. I have been blessed to have a staff of people who have so taken up that charge and made life better for the kids of Adams County.”