Remembering Judge Appleton
By Jason C. Mattox
and Billy Davis
First Baptist Church in Sardis was packed Saturday with friends and family who gathered to say goodbye to long-serving Justice Court Judge James Appleton.
Appleton was serving his 10th consecutive term as judge at the time of his death, making him the longest-serving justice court judge in the state.
Appleton’s passing also leaves a vacancy in north Panola County, and county supervisors agreed Monday to name a replacement at their First District meeting on September 7.
“James Appleton’s judging days are over,” Church of Christ Pastor, and Appleton’s friend, Hal Johnson said. “He has faced judgment and he was pronounced not guilty by his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Johnson, who routinely uses the initials of the deceased to pay tribute, did the same Saturday.
“J.- James Appleton was a just and fair and honest man,” he said. “The W, we all know stood for wise. And the A, he was accommodating
“James Appleton had sound judgment and he wanted the best for everyone,” Johnson continued. “He was always willing to give people a chance, and we all need a second chance sometimes.”
After a musical selection, the service was opened up for comments from those in attendance.
Mayor Alvis “Rusty” Dye was the first to speak on Appleton who had also served as municipal judge in Sardis, Como and Crenshaw during his 38-year career.
“James Appleton was a dedicated man,” he said. “He was dedicated to his church, to his family, and to his fellow man.”
A teary-eyed Dye paused, before assuring the crowd that Appleton’s wife Emily had the support of the community.
“We all know where James Appleton is, there is no doubt,” he said. “And now he is being taken care of, and we will take care of Miss Emily.”
Next to the podium was Appleton’s son-in-law Richard Sturniolo.
“All of you that knew him know he was always there when you needed him,” he said. “He had a great impact on my life, and I miss him.”
Boots Still spoke on Appleton’s impact on his life.
“Mr. James used to get $37.50 from me quite regularly,” he said. “But as I grew and matured, Mr. James helped me. He was an integral part of this community, and a rock of this church.”
FBC minister of music Wayne Brown recounted the day he was voted into the position.
“I was music minister here in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I left,” he said. “When I came back, one of the first people to welcome me back was James.
“On the day of the vote this time, I was a little nervous,” Brown continued. “He told me he would be the one handing the count to the pastor, and if it was okay, he would give me a thumbs up.”
Brown said Appleton walked past him that Sunday morning and apologized.
“When the vote came back at 100 percent, I looked back to where he and miss Emily always sat, and he was rolling,” he said. “He had a love for life, a love for his church, and a love for his Lord and Savior.”
The afternoon’s message was presented by former FBC pastor Rev. Bruce Jolly, who left the church in 1990.
“James Appleton was a good and godly man who had one fault,” Jolly said. “He was an Ole Miss fan.”
Jolly then went on to preach on the life and death of a Christian.
“He knew where he was going, and he was ready to be there,” he said.
County prosecutor C. Gaines Baker and Judge Jay Westfaul released the following statements prior to the funeral service:
“It is extremely difficult to summarize Judge Appleton’s life and service to the people of our county and state in just a few words,” Baker’s statement read. “He was the longest serving judge in the State of Mississippi and had a justice complex named in his honor. That, in itself, speaks volumes about him.
“In his tenure as judge, he touched so many lives in a positive manner,” Baker continued.
“I was saddened to learn of the death of Judge Appleton,” Westfaul stated. “He was a dedicated and faithful servant to the judiciary, always willing to assist the other judges in the county when asked. He will be missed and I extend my deepest sympathy to Mrs. Appleton and the family.”
Appleton was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery in Sardis.