The man who received the second-most votes in the race for Jones County District 1 Justice Court Judge last year will wear the robe for District 2 the rest of this year.
Noel Rogers, 47, was selected by the Board of Supervisors to fill the seat that was vacated by Judge Billie Graham after she was appointed 19th District Chancery Court Judge last week.
Rogers was one of five candidates supervisors interviewed during a special-called meeting on Tuesday morning in the boardroom. After listening to them all, supervisors cast their ballots for Rogers, 4-1, then unanimously agreed to appoint him to the position.
“I appreciate the confidence,” said Rogers, who lives in Ellisville and has a private law practice there.
He was sworn in by Circuit Court Judge Dal Williamson that afternoon.
“Today is a wonderful day for my family and me, and I thank the good Lord for his blessing,” Rogers said. “I will continue to pray for the wisdom I will need to carry out justice for the citizens of Jones County.
“I appreciate the Board of Supervisors having confidence in me to uphold the laws and the constitution of the State of Mississippi. I want all the citizens of Jones County to know that I am going to be fair and use good common sense, but yet uphold the law.”
Minister/social worker Marian Allen and retired highway patrol trooper/Stringer School Resource Officer Sonny Saul, both of whom were on the ballot last year, interviewed for the job along with attorney Jerry Sharp and reserve deputy/auctioneer Jack Armstrong. Saul and Sharp were out of town and had to interview by telephone.
A special election on Nov. 3 will decide who serves the remaining three years of the term.
“I know how to sit in the chair tomorrow and start trying cases,” Rogers said during his interview.
Rogers is from Taylorsville, attended Jones County Junior College and started practicing law in Laurel almost 20 years ago. He grew up working on the family farm, so he “brings that life experience” to the courtroom as well as his experience as an attorney.
“Most of the people who come to justice court don’t have a lawyer,” he said. “I know how to elicit the testimony they need.”
Rogers said he is “good friends” with the other two justice court judges in Jones County and neighboring counties, so he has contacts if he needs advice.
He said the other candidates are “all good folks,” but “I think I’m the best candidate.” His knowledge of the law and his “common man” sensibilities set him apart, he said.
“I enjoy helping people, and justice court is a court of the people,” he said, adding that most of his practice is in real estate and youth court. “You have to look at everything on a case-by-case basis.”
Justice court handles civil cases up to $3,500, traffic tickets, misdemeanors and initial appearances for felonies, among other things. They can also sign search warrants, so a good working relationship with local law enforcement was also emphasized.
Justice court judges make an annual salary of $44,700. They are not required to have a law degree, but two of the three on Jones County’s bench do. District 3 Judge David Lyons is a retired chief of the Laurel Police Department, and Judges Grant Hedgepeth and Rogers are attorneys, as is Rogers’ predecessor, Graham.
Allen, who was accompanied by former Laurel City Councilman and NAACP leader Thaddeus Edmonson, challenged supervisors to “show guts” and pick her, and she would not seek election.
“Let’s make history together,” she said.
Rogers said he does plan to put his name on the ballot in November. He was part of a crowded race for the District 1 judge’s seat last year and made it to the runoff in the Republican primary, where he lost to Hedgepeth. Saul was third in that race and Hedgepeth went on to beat Allen, the Democrat, in the general election.
“Right now, people in District 1 feel like they’re not represented,” Rogers said, noting that he lives in that district but would serve as the District 2 judge.
Saul was the only candidate interviewing with the supervisors for the appointment who lives in District 2, but the people in those positions aren‘t required to live in the district in which they serve, board President Johnny Burnett said. The judges also hear cases from all three judicial districts.
“Noel is a good lawyer and a good family man,” Burnett said. “He has a good personality, he’s compassionate and he strives to help Jones County. He’s always been interested in and supportive of the Board of Supervisors. He will make a good justice court judge.”
The board barely beat the deadline to get a special election on the ballot in November, Burnett said. If it had been after Aug. 5 when they made the appointment, the race would have had to wait another year.
Supervisors Travares Comegys and Larry Dykes both noted that they had a strong pool of candidates from which to choose.
Graham was beginning her third term in Jones County Justice Court before being appointed chancellor by Gov. Tate Reeves to fill the seat of retiring Chancery Court Judge Frank McKenzie.
Rogers and his wife Jennifer live in Ellisville with their two teenage children. She has served as a staff attorney and special master in Forrest County Chancery Court for eight years. This week, she accepted a position as a criminal defense and family law attorney with the Hattiesburg law firm Lowrey and Fortner. She was a candidate for the chancery judge position in Jones County, as was Sharp.