Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Trent Walker has worked most angles of Hinds County's judicial system. The candidate for county court judge has served as a special appointee to Hinds County Circuit Court, an assistant county prosecutor and a youth court referee.
Now living in south Jackson, Walker, 41, grew up in Brandon and attended Pearl High School, graduating in 1986. He received a master's degree in Public Policy from Jackson State University in 1995. After receiving his law degree from Tulane University in 1996, he worked for a year at the Mississippi Supreme Court as a law clerk to then-Associate Justice Jim Smith.
Walker has worked for a number of private firms, including Currie Johnson Griffin Gaines and Myers, and Blackmon & Blackmon. Walker has also worked as a public defender in Yazoo County. In 2008, Justice Smith appointed him to an 11-month post as a special circuit judge in Hinds County and tasked him with helping clear the county's crowded criminal docket. Walker currently works for Schwartz & Associates, handling worker's compensation and personal injury cases.
He calls himself a "homebody," happy to spend a day with his wife, Lisa, three stepchildren and three biological children barbecuing using his homemade sauce.
You've worked in a lot of different legal arenas.
ecause we've been on every side, we don't come in with a jaded point of view that one side or the other is necessarily correct. You talk to some lawyers, and they feel that way about some judges. One of the things I'm trying to sell is I'm not going to be one of those judges. ... I want everybody to know that we're going to hear the case first, hear the arguments first, and then the decision will be made. And not, "Judge Walker tends to lean one way or the other on this."
What changes would you make in the way county court runs?
Number one, I want to see if it is possible--because everything costs money--to expand the use of the drug-court system. That's something that's, in my experience, grossly under-utilized and, quite frankly, is probably significantly less expensive (than incarceration).
How does drug court save money?
You have a non-violent offender who is identified as someone who can benefit from the drug-court program. They have an identifiable drug problem. If you can control that drug problem, you can control that individual's appearance in court on a repeated basis. If you look both locally and nationally at the drug court programs ... it drastically decreases your rate of recidivism, and it allows people who have an addiction to break that cycle and to be good citizens. Obviously, nothing's a hundred percent, but if you think about the amount of money, not having to incarcerate a person for a year, and what the savings is on that.
The way a drug court works is you come in, you're going to enter a guilty plea. When you enter that guilty plea, the judge withholds adjudication on your guilty plea until such time as you complete the drug-court program. ... There's a lot of carrot and stick involved. And if they're serious enough to break the cycle of addiction, they tend to succeed.
So you want to get more cases into drug court?
Where the opportunities arise, yes. But a lot of that will come (down) to funding. And of course we're in a recession now.
(Also) we can use the county court the way the federal courts use a magistrate system. Right now ... if I file a civil suit in circuit court, then I have somewhere between a year and a half to two and a half years before I can get a workable trial date. ... Whereas your county courts, if I filed a lawsuit in county court today, that lawsuit can be tried in seven, eight to twelve months--which, if the lawyer's doing his job, he's going to need to prepare his case in the first place.
So what I would suggest is rather than tying up your circuit judges with a bunch of motions and things of that nature, you decide (that) your county court judges can hear a lot of your preliminary motions. They're already hearing your bond hearings in criminal cases.
Why are you running?
In short, I want to run because I think I'm eminently qualified for the position. I think I can bring some youth and enthusiasm and a fresh outlook, ... ways to do things more efficiently than they have been done. ... There's room for improvement in any system. I think that people ought to know that I won't be someone who just shows up and hears what's on my docket and goes home. I'll be someone who's constantly looking for ways to make the system more efficient and better serve the citizens of Hinds County.