Supervisors balk at Judge’s appointment
A rather mundane meeting of the Panola County Board of Supervisors Monday was highlighted by the board’s apparent opposition of an appointment by Circuit Court Judge Jimmy McClure to fill a public defender position in the county.
Most counties in Mississippi have at least two public defenders who are appointed by circuit judges to provide council for individuals unable to pay for their own defense when facing court proceedings.
Judges routinely make these appointments, which are generally accepted by local governing authorities. But, two supervisors voiced opposition to McClure’s appointment, and the whole board agreed to push against the judge’s pick for the position.
The supervisors’ attorney, Gaines Baker, brought the matter up, rather routinely, Monday informing the board members that McClure had appointed a Tate County attorney to replace long-time public defender David Walker, who has been unable to perform because of health issues.
Nick Smith, who lives in Tate County and practices law in DeSoto County, was McClure’s choice for the post. Baker, and others in the meeting, seemed surprised to hear the opposition from board president Cole Flint and supervisor John Thomas.
“Mr. McClure keeps hitting us in the pocketbook with these non-funded mandates,” Cole said. “I would like to put this off and see if we can get him to come meet with us before we accept this.”
Thomas was also not pleased to hear about the appointment. “What about Kirk (Willingham)? Why didn’t he appoint him?”
Thomas was referencing Batesville attorney Kirk Willingham who McClure had appointed in August to be interim public defender when Walker suffered a stroke.
Willingham has filled that post since last fall, until the new appointment was made by McClure last week.
Baker said he had no direct communication with McClure about the appointment, but wondered if Willingham had wanted the position.
“I don’t know the details of the appointment,” he said. “I was informed of the appointment and Judge McClure’s office asked me to tell this board.”
Baker told the supervisors that Mississippi law gives senior Circuit Court judges the authority to make such appointments. Baker, it appeared, was merely advising the supervisors of the appointment, which began April 4, and not asking them to approve the action.
It is unclear whether the supervisors have any recourse should they want to see another attorney in the position.
Walker recently returned to his role as public defender, but reports of last week’s court session indicated that he was having physical trouble in the courtroom.
Walker was unable to continue his defense role last week in court, and was taken to the hospital from the courtroom, where he was admitted and kept for observation.
Thomas said he has no specific problems with McClure’s appointment other than him not being from Panola County.
“I would just like to see somebody from our town doing that job,” Thomas said.
Contacted after the meeting, McClure said he was unaware the supervisors would balk at the appointment, and will be available to discuss the matter with the board at it’s next meeting.
McClure did say the appointment was a “team decision” and was made with the best interest of the court and Panola County in mind.