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Judiciary Candidates discuss goals at Bar Association Forum

Four candidates in the Chancery and Circuit Court races convened Thursday evening for a judicial candidate forum hosted by the Lafayette County Bar Association.

Candidates for Chancery Court Judge, Post 1, are Carnelia Fondren, Sarah J. Liddy and Lawrence L. “Larry” Little, who were all in attendance. Candidates for Circuit Court Judge, Post 2, are Shirley C. Byers and J. Kelly Luther. Luther, who is running for re-election, was in attendance, but Byers was absent for unspecified reasons.

Bar association president Kevin Frye moderated the forum, in which candidates got the chance to interact with local lawyers and speak about the actions they would take if elected.

Luther, who is currently in his first term as one of three Circuit Court judges, spent 17 years in various roles in Pontotoc County and four as Circuit Court judge. Luther has also been instrumental in the drug court program.

Liddy is currently a Marshall County Youth Court referee, and has been practicing chancery law since she graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1992.

One of the most important things Liddy said she hoped to bring to the role of Chancery Court judge, if elected, is her experience working with a variety of cases. Other than being an attorney and a Youth Court judge, Liddy is special master in Marshall County for the Chancery Court. That role requires Liddy to do commitments for drug and alcohol treatment and mental illness, she said.

Fondren, a 1993 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law, began her professional career working for AT&T. She now serves on the Family Crisis Board and said she prides herself on the pro bono work she’s done.

“During the time I went to law school, I had all three of my children,” Fondren said. “I’m a person who knows how to shift different jobs and still keep all the balls – partly – in the air. I love what I do.”

Little, the current Oxford city judge, has practiced law since 1977. Having spent much of his career in the district attorney’s office, Little said the tragedy he saw there inspired him to help people in other ways.

He also said it instilled in him the need to make sure all people he comes in contact with in the courtroom feel respected.

“You learn how to understand people’s position when you have city court,” Little said. “It’s people of every background, people who cannot afford to pay their fines, people who don’t have a place to go at night and people who are very wealthy, who expect justice to be different for them. I’m pretty sure if you ask anyone, we… try to do the same thing to everyone in terms of treatment.”

The candidates discussed their various concerns as attorneys, especially the need for increasing the efficiency of court proceedings. Avoiding the “hurry up and wait” mentality that has become so common, Fondren said, will be a key part of her time as Chancery Court judge, if elected.

Improving the legal process for families, whether it be in divorce cases or others, is something Fondren and Liddy said they would work toward. Liddy spoke to the practicality of settlement conferences when it comes to divorce proceedings. Having handled more divorce cases than she could count, Liddy said, she believes such meetings would keep all parties involved from wasting their time on trial days.

“I’m along those lines of having a mandatory settlement conference before a trial date is given,” Liddy said. “Let everybody come in, judge is there for guidance and if they can’t settle we’ll go ahead and go to trial.”

Luther, who along with Judge Andy Howorth helped found the Third Circuit District Drug Court, spoke about his goals to expand the program. Because the district extends from Byhalia nearly to Calhoun City, Luther said many people who could benefit from the program found it impossible to access it.

“I was dragged kicking and screaming into the drug court age, and now I’m not only a convert – I’m a zealot,” Luther said. “Between Judge Howorth and myself we have over 300 people, and in Ripley we’re up to 87. The last three weeks we’ve had zero of that 87 test positive for drugs and alcohol.”

Regardless of who wins their respective elections, the candidates all have deep respect for each other and their roles in the legal system, Little said. Election Day is Nov. 6, 2018.