Circuit Court Judge Election

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Appointed judge faces competition for seat

By Billy Davis

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In a contested race for circuit court judge, a judge who’s been on the bench for 16 months is touting his previous years of experience as a municipal court judge. His opponent, meanwhile, is pointing to more than a decade of experience as an assistant district attorney.

In seven days, voters in four counties will decide whose appeal found favor. 

“I have 14 years’ experience being a judge. My opponent has zero,” said Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure of Sardis.

He’s pitted in the November 4 contest against Assistant District Attorney Smith Murphey of Batesville.

Murphey, not surprisingly, is touting his experience gained in the circuit court system. He claims to have prosecuted more than 4,000 felonies since his hiring.

“I have 12 years’ experience in circuit court,” said Murphey. “My opponent has one year of experience.”

McClure, 53, currently presides over criminal and civil cases in Mississippi’s 17th Judicial District. The 17th District includes counties Panola, Tate, Yalobusha and Tallahatchie.

The circuit judge’s seat opened up when Gov. Haley Barbour appointed then-Judge Ann Lamar to the state Supreme Court. Barbour then appointed McClure on July 10, 2007, to finish Lamar’s term.

McClure moved into the judge’s post from his private law practice in Sardis, where he has accumulated most of his judge’s experience as a municipal court judge.

In an interview last week, McClure said he earned a degree in business from Ole Miss in 1978, then worked in accounting and banking. He returned to Ole Miss to pursue a law degree and graduated in 1991, following his father and grandfather in private practice.

McClure said his Sardis law practice, unlike some law firms, has never concentrated on a particular field. “I’ve done it all –  criminal defense, family practice, real estate,” he said. 

McClure said he pursued a law degree in order to stay in Panola County.

Murphey, 40, is originally from Sumner, Miss. He moved to Batesville in 1999 when he was hired by former District Attorney Bobby Williams. Murphey’s hiring, and many others across the state, came after state legislators appropriated funds to increase the number of assistant DAs. 

Murphey said he had been serving as a law clerk for the Mississippi Supreme Court when he was hired as an assistant DA. He had earned a business degree at Ole Miss before attending Mississippi College School of Law. He earned a law degree in 1994.

As vice president of the Miss. Prosecutors Association, Murphey said he pushed for tougher penalties for felony child abuse after prosecuting a shaken-baby case in Water Valley. At the time the stiffest penalty was a 20-year sentence, even though the child had been permanently injured. 

The newer penalty includes a maximum life sentence and a “two-strike” rule for felony child abuse. The beefed-up penalties became known as “Logan’s Law.”

McClure said that two circuit cases he presided over have been appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and in both cases the state court upheld his decision.

“The public might not understand it, but this is not an easy job – to determine the future of someone’s life,” McClure said.

“A law school professor told us that a judge is the ‘gatekeeper of justice.’ That’s something I haven’t forgotten,” McClure added.