The qualifications to run for justice court judge are pretty simple: a high-school diploma and $10 to pay the county circuit clerk to file your paperwork. You also must be a resident of the county you wish to run in for two years before the election and take a training course within six months of beginning your term in office. Perhaps this is why the race has been somewhat an unknown quantity this election season.
Of the four districts in Hinds County, only two races are contested: District 1 and District 4. In District 1, "Jackson Jambalaya" blogger and Northside Sun writer James "Jimmy" Hendrix (who also goes by the name "Kingfish," but records indicate he was born James Whitehead) is running as a Republican against incumbent Don Palmer, a Democrat. In District 4, 28-year-old Damon Stevenson is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Jimmy Morton.
Stevenson, who owns a law firm, Stevenson Legal Group, is the only candidate who appears to have a campaign website listing his qualifications. Stevenson is a native of Brandon who currently lives in Raymond with his wife, Jessica Morris Stevenson. He graduated from Tougaloo College in 2005 with a degree in economics and received a law degree from Mississippi College School of Law. He worked as a federal probation officer after graduation until he opened his firm in 2009.
Why did you decide to run for justice court?
As a practicing attorney, I have had several opportunities to have several cases in justice court in Hinds County and other parts of the state. ... You notice things that you think may help the court system move a bit smoother, wiser and be a better investment for taxpayers.
Can you be more specific?
At this time I think it would be wonderful for the justice court to be more accessible online. If people could schedule hearings and matters online it would improve things. If people could pay fines online, perhaps they wouldn't even need to come to court. Modernizing the system in those ways would be extremely beneficially. Also, while it's not a requirement to be an attorney, I think the citizens of Hinds County would benefit from having a person on the bench who understands how the law is supposed to work.
Tell me about the cases justice court judges oversee.
Justice court handles misdemeanors in Hinds County that are prosecuted through the Hinds County Sheriff's Department or even the Mississippi Highway Patrol--any misdemeanors such as a speeding violation, traffic ticket, or even domestic violence or a DUI. There is also a civil side of the justice court that handles matters up to $3,500.
What qualities do you think a judge must posses?
The guiding principle of any court, including the justice court, has to be the law. The laws that are in place deserve to be promoted. If a judge has that in mind and uses that a guiding force, he will automatically be fair.
You worked as a federal probations office. What was that like?
As a federal probations officer, there are different facets to your job. ... A major part of my job was advising federal judges on sentencing issues related to people who had been convicted. That was extremely eye-opening. Not only do you look at the crime that a person committed, you have an opportunity to look at their background and understand why they committed this crime. You can then tailor a sentence so that you are addressing the root issues on why they are committing the crime.
In your experience, what is the best way to counter recidivism?
Just locking people up does not solve problem. I think what the justice court judges need to do is take the lead working with churches and employers--different institutions in the community to ensure that when people come through the court system we can put in place things like job training and placement. As an attorney, I have been amazed at the number of people I represent who cannot read and write, and that makes it a whole lot harder to find a job. ... We should have different venues for people who come through the court system where we can refer them to a job-training specialist or an education specialist who can work with them to get their GED. Based on what I have seen, people who go out and work meaningful jobs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. are not committing crimes.
Do you think your age will be a challenge for you to win this race?
No. ... Even though I am young, I am the only licensed attorney in the race. My qualifications alone differentiate me a great deal from my opponent. Young people are assets but at the same time our greatest liability. In the court system today, it is no secret that there is a large number of young males. I think my age will actually help me, because it will allow me to relate to them and let them know that it is possible for you as a young person to go out and make a meaningful contribution to society--work, support a family and become a taxpayer instead of becoming a tax burden.