DA staff change touches Oktibbeha

Assistant District Attorney Armstrong Walters
Daily Times Leader

The domino effect from the retirement of a veteran prosecutor reaches into the Starkville legal community.

Assistant District Attorney Armstrong Walters’s last day on District Attorney Scott Colom’s staff was Friday. Colom has hired Collin Hudson, a Lowndes County public defender and a lawyer in the Sims and Sims law firm, to fils Walters’ spot.

In addition to Hudson, Lowndes County Public Defender Brandon Langford also has stepped down. To fill the two spots, Circuit Court Judges Lee Howard, Jim Kitchens and Lee Coleman have appointed Jay Hurdle and Jase Dalrymple as part-time public defenders. Hurdle practices in Starkville and Dalrymple in Columbus.

After the mandatory 90 days, Walters will return part time to help Colom's staff review cases before they are presented to the grand jury. Walters steps down after 25 years both as a public defender and prosecutor.

He was public defender in Lowndes County before joining the district attorney’s staffs in Hinds and Madison counties. Colom hired Walters to return to Lowndes County when Colom was elected two years ago.

“I’ve got in 25 years and decided it was time to go,” Walters said, noting he doesn’t plan to do any private law practice once he’s done.

When asked, he said he preferred prosecuting cases as opposed to defending suspects.

“It’s different, you’ve got to think about a lot of different things because you’ve got the burden of proof. You’ve got to prove the case rather than just punching holes in the other side,” he explained.

His worst case was that of a man accused of shooting a 4-year-old in the face. That man pleaded guilty this year. And while he’d handled other crime with horrific circumstances, the age of the victim made this that much worse.

“With kids, that’s different,” he said, shaking his head.

Hudson will handle cases under Judge Kitchens in Lowndes and Noxubee counties.

“I’ve been impressed with her for the last two years,” Colom said of Hudson. “She wants to be in the courtroom, that’s what makes her good. She’s got the passion. And she has a good rapport with everyone. She’s young, she’s straightforward. It just seemed like a good fit,” added Color, whose district covers Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay and Noxubee counties.

For Hudson, it’s the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

“I have wanted to work as a prosecutor since I was about 8-years-old,” an “excited” Hudson said of the opportunity. “There was an occasion where I had to tag along with my dad (former county prosecutor and now county attorney Tim Hudson) to Justice Court for the day. I sat in the jury box and watched the proceedings. I was hooked. I went with him nearly every Tuesday during the summer and school holidays.

“My position as a public defender meant a lot of me and I took it very seriously. I’m looking forward to serving the community in a different way as an ADA,” she concluded.

The retirement and new hire don’t impact Colom’s staffs in Clay or Oktibbeha counties.

To make the switch, he has handed Walters’ cases off to others on his staff and issued orders that his staff be careful about talking about cases in which Hudson was involved as a public defender with her or in front of her.

“It’s a pretty good system. We’ll work through it and it won’t take that long. We are very aware of the conflict issue,” he said.

Hurdle and Dalrymple will join veteran public defenders Donna Smith and Steve Wallace in Lowndes County. The position is part-time so attorneys still can have private practices.

“I think it’s a good mix of veterans and young talent,” Colom said of the four lawyers who handle dozens of cases for indigent clients in Lowndes County Circuit Court. The two newcomers will have a little time to get ready because court doesn’t start in Lowndes County until February.