Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Today, some Hinds County voters are returning to the polls for two runoff elections for two county judge seats.
In one contest, for Hinds County judge, former judge Malcolm O. Harrison squares off against incumbent youth-court judge Bill Skinner.
In 2009, then Gov. Haley Barbour tapped Harrison to replace Judge Bobby DeLaughter, who was suspended from the bench amid federal corruption charges. DeLaughter pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
A partner of the Jackson firm Harrison & Flowers, PLLC, Harrison was defeated during his reelection bid in 2010. Earlier that year, Harrison paved the way for a so-called Personhood Amendment to appear on the statewide ballot in 2011.
"Plaintiffs carry a heavy burden in attempting to restrict the citizenry's right to amend the Constitution," Harrison wrote in his ruling at the time. "Initiative Measure No. 26 has received more than the required amount of signatures to be placed on the ballot, and the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to amend their Constitution."
The amendment was defeated overwhelmingly.
Skinner, Harrison’s opponent, presides over the county’s youth court system. In that role, Skinner has been in the middle of a number of controversies at the Henley-Young Youth Justice Center, which he also ran for a while before a court ruled that it was improper for Skinner to maintain both roles.
Just before the Nov. 4 election, Skinner again made headlines when a video surfaced of him reportedly cursing about two detention center employees: Brenda Frelix--the center’s one-time director, who was ultimately demoted--and Frank Bluntson, who also ran the center before serving on the Jackson City Council. Bluntson is acting director of the justice center.
In 1998, Skinner graduated from Mississippi College School of Law. In January of 2000, Bill opened his own law practice, Skinner & Associates, LLC, in Raymond.
"I'm not a stranger to this district and I've formed a relationship and developed a trust with those living in the district and county. Because juveniles make up a large percentage of our crime statistic I have made it my mission to be an advocate for rehabilitating our youth," Skinner said on WAPT.
Another race for an open seat features a pair of lawmakers, Jackson Ward 3 Councilwoman LaRita Cooper-Stokes and state Rep. Kimberly Campbell, also of Jackson.
In a special election in 2012, Cooper-Stokes replaced her husband, Kenneth Stokes, who won a seat on the Hinds County Board of Supervisors. During her time on the city council, where she presides over the planning committee, Cooper-Stokes has etched out a reputation for celebrating resident of her ward with proclamations and certificates of accomplishments at just about every regular meeting; she does not typically attend special city council meetings, which deals with paying the city’s bills and special discussion items.
A longtime Jackson attorney, she earned her law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. Councilwoman Cooper-Stokes is also a child of God and she gives all thanks and praises to Jesus Christ.
"In my opinion, the county court is the people's court. LaRita Cooper-Stokes will be a judge for the people," Cooper-Stokes said on WAPT.
Elected to the Legislature in 2008, Campbell is the vice-chairwoman of the House Judiciary B Committee. In the most recent legislative session, Campbell authored legislation to create a state Commission Against Interpersonal Violence.
Campbell, an attorney and adjunct professor, is a Jackson native who received her bachelor's degree in English from Mississippi State University in 1994, her master's in organizational communication from Auburn University in 1998 and her law degree from University of Mississippi School of Law in 2001.
"I have learned to appreciate the complexities of our legal system and its dependence upon impartiality," Campbell said.
If Cooper-Stokes is successful today, a special election will need to be held to fill her seat on the city council. It would be the fifth such special election in the city in less than one year.