Natchez mayor breaks tie leading to Daugherty appointment as municipal judge

Published 6:11 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

NATCHEZ — Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson broke a three-three tie of the city’s board of aldermen in a special meeting Thursday afternoon to appoint Christina “Cricket” Ferrell Daugherty as interim municipal court judge.

The city called a special meeting to appoint a municipal judge and municipal judge pro tem, as well as discuss the issue of the condition of the Canal Street Bridge. During special meetings, only those things on the agenda prior to the meeting can be discussed at the meeting.

The aldermen went into executive session and interviewed three Natchez attorneys who had expressed interest in the municipal court position — attorneys Aisha Sanders, Tim Blalock and Daugherty.

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When aldermen ended the executive session, Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier immediately nominated Sanders for the municipal court judge position, which was seconded by Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving.

“We have someone who is very knowledgeable; someone who has a passion. She exhibited a passion toward working in the field, as well. She shared a lot of great things back there in that interview,” Bridgewater-Irving said.

She also said Sanders is aware that the municipal court generates revenue through fines and fees for the city and discussed during the executive session that she will keep that in mind while doing her job, should she be chosen.

“I want to thank all of the candidates who expressed an interest. After viewing Ms. Sanders, her application and her experience was just a little above the rest of them. She is the best candidate with the best experience. I want to say to the public, this appointment is just for four, five or six months. Then, each candidate has the right to run for this position as municipal court judge,” Frazier said.

When the vote was called, aldermen Frazier, Bridgewater-Irving and Ward 5 Alderman Ben Davis voted yay for Sanders’ appointment, while Ward 1 Alderwoman Valencia Hall, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter-Smith and Ward 6 Alderman Curtis Moroney voted nay.

Gibson broke the tie, voting nay against Sanders’ nomination.

“I do not believe the court is there to make money. Yes, it is true that the court collects funds. But the primary responsibility of our court is to provide for the adequate enforcement and application of municipal law and keeping our city safe and making sure that our laws are obeyed. I want to state for the record that the primary purpose of our municipal court is not to be a money-maker for the city,” he said.

Next, Hall moved to appoint Daugherty as interim municipal court judge, which was seconded by Moroney.

“Ms. Ferrell has shown that she has across the board prosecutorial experience and has dealt with criminal cases. She has worked at the appellate level. She has worked in two different judicial districts as an attorney. She has worked with boards and commissions as an attorney, with code enforcement as an attorney. She has vast experience and has been working with attorneys here in Natchez well,” Hall said.

Frazier argued that Daugherty has not practiced law in seven years.

“She has made a motion to bring someone in who hasn’t been in the judicial system in Adams County in seven years? Come on, people,” Frazier said. “I don’t have anything against her. But we are talking about the people of Adams County. Miss Sanders, with her impeccable record, she has a record of dealing with the people of Adams County. Just because (Daugherty) has worked with the former prosecutor Bryan Callaway and with other attorneys, including you, Mr. Lazarus, that does not make her the best … We need to do this and do this right. She has gone and made a motion to put as municipal judge dealing with the people of this community someone who hasn’t worked with the law in seven years? Come on.”

Daugherty is currently a vice principal at Adams County Christian School.

Bridgewater-Irving pointed out the majority of Daugherty’s legal experience was working in Tennessee.

“We are talking out of the arena of connecting with people here in Adams County. If you want to have that position, you need to be connecting with the people in this community and that’s a disconnect, coming back in this capacity,” she said.

Moroney said Daugherty has vast experience in the legal community, having grown up the daughter of former Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell and granddaughter of former Adams County Sheriff Billy Ferrell in addition to her 15 years practice as an attorney.

“Her children have gotten to an age where she can commit herself to this position,” Moroney said. “She has a good temperament. I think she will serve us very well.”

Frazier blasted Moroney, saying he hasn’t served in his job as alderman long enough to make such a recommendation.

“You are going to sit up there and tell me you think she is qualified and you just got to that seat. You really don’t know what’s going on around here,” Frazier said. Frazier said he was “putting this board on check.”

Moroney was elected in May of this year to fill the vacancy on the board left when Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard died unexpectedly.

The vote was the opposite of the one before it, with Hall, Carter-Smith, and Moroney voting in favor of Daugherty’s appointment and Frazier, Bridgewater-Irving and Davis voting against it.

Gibson again broke the tie in favor of appointing Daugherty.

With almost no discussion, Nakita Banks of Natchez was appointed municipal court pro tem, a position she held in the past. Aldermen Frazier and Bridgewater-Irving voted against her appointment, but it passed with the positive votes cast by Hall, Carter-Smith, Davis and Moroney.

After the meeting Tuesday, Daugherty said she would have a discussion with ACCS Headmaster David King about a role, if any, going forward at the school.

“Can I do both jobs? Yes, I can. But the question is in what capacity. I will be having a discussion with David King about that,” she said.

Daugherty is the wife of Adams County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Shane Daugherty. She is a graduate of LSU and earned her law degree from the University of Mississippi. Daugherty practiced for 15 years in Nashville and in Natchez before moving into education and earning her administrator’s license from Mississippi College.