Neilson to serve as interim Municipal Judge for Oxford; Smith appointed to school board

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, February 27, 2018

With 30 years of working in courtrooms as an attorney and alongside law enforcement as an FBI special agent, Hal Neilson has been appointed to serve as Oxford’s Interim Municipal Judge.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen met Monday in executive session to interview 13 candidates who applied for the position that is currently held by Judge Larry Little. Little announced in January that he had qualified to run for the Chancery Court seat being vacated by Judge Glenn Alderson, who will not be seeking re-election this November. The Board of Aldermen granted Little a leave of absence from the duties of Municipal Judge effective April 1.

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Neilson earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Mississippi and then his law degree from the University of Mississippi’s School of Law in the late 1980s. He worked as an attorney for two years before joining the FBI as a special agent in 1989. He managed the FBI office in Oxford until he retired in 2012 and returned to practicing law.

Neilson currently serves as a municipal prosecuting attorney in Coffeeville, as well as a defense attorney in his practice, the Neilson and Associates Law Office.

A resident of Oxford for 20 years, Neilson said he was humbled the Board of Aldermen chose him to serve as Interim Judge while Little focuses on the upcoming election.

“I hope to help create a court that can serve as a model for other municipal courts around Mississippi,” he said Monday afternoon.

Neilson will begin sitting with Little on Wednesday during court until he takes over on April 1.

“I am very proud to serve Oxford and its citizens in this capacity,” he said.

If Little wins the election in November, the Board of Aldermen will then decide whether to appoint Neilson as municipal judge, taking the word “interim” out of his title.

Also on Monday, the Aldermen appointed Oxford resident Betsy Smith, the owner of Oxford’s two McDonald’s Restaurants, to the Oxford School Board of Trustees. Long-time trustee Marian Barksdale will be stepping down on March 2 after serving on the board for almost 13 years.

The board interviewed six people who applied to be considered for the appointment to the school board.

“I am ecstatic to serve the Oxford School District in this role,” Smith said. “While a student at Ole Miss, I studied education and it has always been a passion of mine.  I am a product of a strong public school system, and the stellar reputation of the Oxford School District was a major draw that pulled my family back to this community.”

Smith and her husband, Andrew, have three children currently attending Oxford schools.

“My goal is to work side by side with the other board members to ensure a successful future for each and every student in our district,” she said Monday.

Mayor Robyn Tannehill said she and the Board of Aldermen had a long day of interviews Monday.

“I will have to say that I am so encouraged by the depth of knowledge and experience – coupled with a desire to serve our community – that was demonstrated by the candidates we spoke with today,” Tannehill said.