Aldermen appoint Kelley to Municipal Judge seat

By: 
Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

After interviewing eight candidates for Starkville’s open Municipal Judge seat, the Starkville Board of Aldermen voted to appoint Starkville attorney Brian Kelley to the position during a special-called meeting Friday afternoon.

Kelley will begin his position on Jan. 2, once the current Municipal Judge Rodney Faver has completed his term. The municipal position became vacant for the coming year after Faver took a new position as the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court Judge for District 14, Place 1.

The other seven applicants that interviewed Friday were Charles Bruce Brown, Jimmy Brown, Marty Haug, Jeffery Hosford, Jay Hurdle, Caroline Crawley Moore and Whit Waide. Kelley was the fifth applicant to interview.

“I enjoy practicing law because it gives me the opportunity to have a positive impact on many people’s lives,” Kelley said in his opening statement. “A significant portion of my practice has been in Starkville Municipal Court. I’ve also prosecuted cases on behalf of the United States Attorney’s Office.”

Kelley has practiced law for the past 17 years, 15 of which have been in Starkville.

“As a lawyer I’m able to have a positive impact on hundreds of lives per year,” Kelley said “I’m here today because I believe as a judge that would allow me to have an impact on thousands of lives per year— punishing the deserving, giving someone another chance, forcing someone to get a treatment for a problem that they need treatment for.”

Mayor Lynn Spruill asked Kelley if he would make any changes to the city’s Municipal Court if he were to be elected. Kelley said he believed Starkville Municipal Court should rule more consistently with the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court.

“For example, if the circuit court has consistently shown that it is going to non adjudicate certain misdemeanor crimes for first-time offenders, then I believe that the municipal court should also non adjudicate those crimes,” Kelley said.

In addition, Kelley said he would consult the current court staff about the possibility of consolidating the number municipal court sessions.

“If we’re able to do that, then I believe it’s going to reduce the amount of overtime that we would pay city court staff,” Kelley said.

Kelley said he believed both changes would make the court system more efficient, while also benefiting everyone involved.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker asked Kelley what the most important characteristic was for being a municipal judge. Kelley said the judge had to be just and fair, having an even temperament with everyone and treating every- one with respect.

“Everyone has to walk in here know- ing they’re going to get a fair shake, that the court’s going to listen to both sides equally without bias and without prejudice,” Kelley responded.

Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller asked Kelley to define fairness.

“It means treating both sides equally. It means not having any prejudice toward either party. It means being unbiased. It means listening to the facts and deciding the case based on what was put in front of you without any outside impact,” Kelley said.

Referencing the local college population, Ward 3 Alderman David Little asked Kelley for his judicial philosophy with handling younger defendants.

“I would handle every single defendant who walked into this courtroom the same: equally and fairly,” Kelley said.

“In regards to your question on first- time offense, what I said earlier in terms of the changes I would make, I would offer those non-adjudication practices that our circuit court is doing,” Kelley said.

Kelley said he would also offer pre-trial diversion as an alternative, which had become a common legal route for low-level offenders.

“Things that would allow a college student or any member of our community to not hamper their future because they made one mistake when they were 20-years-old with a misdemeanor crime that didn’t affect anyone,” Kelley continued. “I would be a heavy advocate for using every process that our legislature has given us to give those people a chance.”

Walker made the motion to appoint Kelley as the next Municipal Judge with an annual salary of $55,000, effective Jan. 2, which was seconded by Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk.

The motion passed with a vote of 4-3, with Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A’. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn abstaining from the vote.

Carver, Perkins and Vaughn all made a point to say that they did not feel prepared to make a decision Friday and wished to take more time to consider the candidates.

“What’s the rush?” Perkins asked, echoing Carver and Vaughn. “I’m voting to abstain because there’s no reason to rush and we need to be fair to all of these eight outstanding attorneys who have come up here tonight.”

In his closing remarks, Kelley recognized that there were a number of capable attorneys who applied for the position but asked to be considered for the position due to his legal experience and his personal experience.

“From a legal qualification perspective, I believe that I have a very diversified legal experience background,” Kelley said.

Kelley noted he has defended Mississippi for the Attorney General, has prosecuted cases for the United States Attorney’s Office and has represented Fortune 500 companies while also representing “the poorest of clients” pro bono.

“I believe that that experience gives me a unique perspective,” he said.

“From a personal perspective, I have a passion for Starkville,” Kelley continued. “Over 15 years I have poured every ounce of myself into having a positive impact on this community. My law practice is here, my home is here, my family is here— every single investment I have ever made is here.”

“I will always do my part for the betterment of Starkville,” Kelley said. “I am committed to Starkville. I believe in Starkville. I believe that the role of Municipal Court Judge is a critical one in confirming our title as the best place to live in Mississippi.”

After the meeting, Kelley said he was honored and “incredibly humbled” by his appointment.

“The Municipal Court of Starkville will be focused on justice and fairness. I look forward to serving the City of Starkville in this role,” Kelley said.

APPLICANT BACKGROUNDS

Starkville accepted applications for the municipal position through Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. and the eight applicants were Charles Bruce Brown, Jimmy Brown, Marty Haug, Jeffery Hosford, Jay Hurdle, Brian Kelley, Caroline Crawley Moore and Whit Waide.

Charles Brown has practiced law since April 1990 and has managed a law office in Starkville for 28 years. he was also appointed as a public defender in 1990. More recently, Charles Brown began work as a municipal prosecutor for Mathiston in August 2008 and for Sturgis in September 2017.

Jimmy Brown has practiced law for 38 years. In his application, he notes his practice included a “strong emphasis” in criminal law, handling “everything from a speeding ticket to a Capital Murder trial.” he has also served as a parole probation officer in the Mississippi Department of Corrections and as a clerk in the Mississippi Attorney General's Office.

Haug has practiced law in both Florida and Mississippi for approximately 16 years. After focusing on criminal law for nearly six years in Florida, he began his general practice law firm in Starkville in 2009. haug was elected as Oktibbeha County Justice Court Judge for District 3 and appointed Sturgis Municipal Court Judge in 2015.

Hosford has practiced criminal and civil law in the Golden Triangle since 2002. In his application, Hosford says this experience has provided him “a working knowledge” of the municipal court system.

Hurdle has practiced law in Starkville at hurdle Law Firm PLLC since 2010. In his application, Hurdle notes he has “extensive experience” in criminal law, representing clients in over 150 felony and misdemeanor cases over the last year.

Kelley has practiced law in Mississippi for 17 years, with 15 years in Starkville. He opened his own legal practice in Starkville in spring 2004, where he says he has maintained an “active” criminal defense practice. Entrusted by the Mississippi Attorney general, Kelley said he defends Mississippi in various litigation matters.

Moore has served as the Starkville Municipal Court prosecutor since 2013, which she notes has allowed her to work closely with Judge Faver and the court staff. She says her six years in the position has made her familiar with the municipal court operations in Starkville. She has practiced law at the Crawley Law Office since 1997 and was elected as Winston County’s first female prosecutor in 2008.

Waide has been a professor of political science at Mississippi State University for 12 years, where he has taught law courses and served as a university pre-law advisor. Since 2015, Waide has served as a clinical assistant professor and given general counsel to students. Before becoming a professor, Waide served as a commercial litigator in Jackson from 2002 to 2004 and as general counsel and chief of staff for the Mississippi State Treasurer in 2005 and 2006.

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