Baker named new board attorney

Published 1:59 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Baker named new board attorney


By Rupert Howell
C. Gaines Baker was chosen as attorney for Panola County Board of Supervisors Monday following a closed door session lasting for about an hour during which which time attorney Kirk Willingham was named Panola County Public Defender.
Baker, a Batesville attorney who serves in the elected position as County Prosecuting Attorney, won the position on a 4-1 vote following the closed door session.  Supervisors were under the impression that Baker would not have to give up his elected position while serving as board attorney.
Board president Cole Flint was the the lone “nay” vote in the board’s decision.
The position became vacant with the death of longtime board attorney Bill McKenzie. Several attorneys or their firms had shown interest in the position including former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, Ryan Revere with the Smith, Phillips and Mitchell firm, Batesville Municipal Judge Jay Westfaul as well as others.
The board attorney serves at the “will and pleasure” of the board of supervisors and can be replaced at their discretion, although board attorneys for Panola supervisors typically serve for decades. The former attorney for the board recorded the official proceedings of board meetings and advised supervisors on legal and ethical issues pertaining to county government as well as other duties.
Prior to Monday’s closed session Baker recommended to supervisors the hiring of a public defender by July 1 as mandated by the Supreme Court. He estimated approximately 40 cases per month would need a public defender explaining that only a few cases would go to trial. Hiring a public defender would help assure that each defendant received adequate counsel Baker explained.
He also suggested the county look into partnering with municipalities to help fund some of the expense as they would be under the same Supreme Court mandate to employ public defenders for their courts.
Baker had advised supervisors last month that Willingham had represented several indigent defendants for Justice Court on a case-by-case basis.
Willingham was hired on a contractual basis for $2,500 per month for six months beginning July 1. He will not be an employee of the county thus not receiving benefits offered to employees.
Baker, as the county prosecuting attorney, is already an employee of the county.

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