By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Mike Mills of Fulton will be challenged in the Nov. 5 general election by Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner III of Tupelo.

Gardner and Mills were the only two to qualify for the Northern District Supreme Court post by Friday's deadline, according to a spokesman for the Mississippi Secretary of State's office.

While Mills is the incumbent, he has never run for the post of Supreme Court justice. He was appointed to the post in November by Gov. Kirk Fordice. A vacancy occurred after Chief Justice Armis Hawkins of Houston decided to step down early.

Both Mills and Gardner said months ago that they planned to run for the post.

Before being appointed to the Supreme Court, Mills served in the state House of Representatives. He had just been elected to his fourth term in the House when Fordice appointed him to the state's highest court.

Gardner has served as a circuit judge for the 1st District, which includes much of Northeast Mississippi, since 1980. Before then, he served as a public defender and as an assistant district attorney.

The two will run in the Northern District, which includes 33 of the state's 82 counties.

Besides the race for the Northern District post, elections also will be held to fill two posts on the Supreme Court from the Central District and one from the Southern District.

In the Central District, Chief Justice Dan Lee of Jackson is being opposed by six people, including two judges on the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals judges are Billy Bridges of Brandon and Leslie Southwick of Jackson. Also in the race are Chet Dillard of Clinton, H. Gerald Hosemann of Vicksburg and William Waller Jr. of Jackson.

Incumbent Fred Banks, also of the Central District, is being challenged by Ryan Hood of Clinton.

In the Southern District, incumbent Ed Pittman of Hattiesburg will face opposition from Jerry O. Terry of Biloxi.

The other two Northern District justices - Lenore Prather of West Point and James Roberts Jr. of Pontotoc - are not up for election this year.

Supreme Court justices hear appeals of cases from chancery and circuit courts and from the Court of Appeals.

Each justice's term is for eight years.

Judicial elections are non-partisan.

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