TUPELO • When the polls open Tuesday morning, four candidates will be looking for enough votes to fill two two vacant Lee County Justice Court seats.
The retirement of judges John Hoyt Sheffield and Sadie Holland left the District 2 and 3 posts open, respectively.
Republican Marilyn Reed and Independent Eric Hampton, both political newcomers, are vying for the District 2 seat. Democrat Johnny “Chris” Sadler and Republican Phyllis Dye hope to win the Post 3 seat that Holland held for 16 years.
Reed, 47, of the Auburn community, is the Lee County Veterans Service officer. She spent 13 years working in former District Attorney Johnny Young’s office. She worked another 14 years handling civil cases at a private law practice.
She defeated two opponents in the Republican primaries to get her first taste of politics.
“Justice court is one of the most essential courts,” Reed said. “It may not try felony criminal cases but it does handle the preliminary work, including signing warrants and setting bonds.
“I feel the most important issue is having a judge available 24-7. I have spoken with police, deputies, troopers and the sheriff. They say having access to a judge during the day, at night and on weekends is important. I won’t have any jobs outside being a judge to interfere with my work.”
Hampton, 41, is an entrepreneur and owns five businesses. While he has had a hand in several political campaigns in the past, this is his first time to run for office. And while he has been active in both the Democratic and Republican parties, he is running as an Independent.
“I’ve been both but I am tired of the divisiveness of the major parties,” Hampton said. “It’s the same reason I am running on my own money. I’m not taking one red cent from anybody.
“I don’t want to have to answer to anyone, just the voters.”
He said he is running in order to give back to the community and help people. He is a strong proponent of rehabilitation, especially for alcoholics and drug offenders.
“I want to make sure all folks get rehab, or some sort of help,” Hampton said. “I also want to help with domestic violence and make sure they get counseling.
“A lot of people asked me to run, including Judge Sheffield,” Hampton said. “I saw the good that (Circuit Court Judge Kelly Mims) has done since he was elected, and decided I needed to run for a smaller court.”
Dye said she will be accessible and available if elected.
“I want to be there for citizens and for law enforcement,” Dye said. “When a judge is needed, I will be there.”
State law requires justice court judges to only hold court at least one day a month, but not more than two. For Dye, that is too little work for a $47,000 annual salary.
“I think the voters deserve more, and so does law enforcement. By law, it is a part time job but there is a need for judges to be present or available.”
Dye, 60, of the Brewer community, is the accounts payable officer for the Lee County Chancery Clerk. She defeated four other Republicans in the primary and primary run-off in August.
This is not her first campaign. She ran against Holland four years ago, falling just 66 votes short of winning the office.
Sadler was the lone Democrat running for the District 3 job. The 57-year-old registered nurse and minister actually lives in District 1. State law does not require a justice court judge to live within the district.
He said the main reason he chose to run out of district was the retirement of Judge Sadie Holland, the District 3 incumbent. As a minister, he has been to justice court many times and seen young people making poor choices and end up being pulled down.
“I think we need to educate children more on where they are and where they are going,” Sadler said. “I want to focus on education and their options – from the home setting, from the church setting and from the school setting.
“We need things to make them more productive. I’m not against technology and all it brings. But we need to use technology to advance young minds instead of having technology take away their minds.”
Sadler, who has never been in politics, thinks there needs to be more emphasis on civics, to give people more awareness of what it going on in their community.
Justice courts have jurisdiction over small claims civil cases involving amounts of $3,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and any traffic offense that occurs outside a municipality. Justice Court judges also conduct bond hearings, and preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases and issue search warrants.
State law only requires justice court judges to have a high school diploma.