With the upcoming May 7 filing deadline quickly approaching for judicial candidates to run for office in Mississippi, so far there are very few competitive races on the horizon. But, what could prove to be one of the more interesting races is in North Mississippi in the Court of Appeals District 1 campaign that is now taking shape.

Last week, incumbent Judge Donna Barnes of Tupelo officially announced her re-election campaign. A few weeks ago, Tupelo lawyer Kelly Mims announced he is entering the race against Judge Barnes.
This definitely has the makings of what could be the most watched judicial race of the year. This district, which is made up for 23 counties (four of them split between Districts 1 and 2), has the same boundaries as the First Congressional District prior to the 2002 redistricting. For a map and list of counties of the Court of Appeals districts, go to http://www.mssc.state.ms.us/appellate_courts/coa/coadistricts.html

Judge Donna Barnes was appointed by Governor Haley Barbour in 2004 to the Court of Appeals. She won her election in 2006 without opposition. Before her appointment to the Court by Governor Barbour, Barnes worked for nearly 20 years at the Mitchell, McNutt and Sams law firm in Tupelo.

By all accounts, Barnes has been a conservative oriented Judge. She is known as smart, deliberate and having a strong legal mind as her legal experience before joining the Court centered on appellate work. You have to expect Governor Barbour to be strongly and publicly supportive of Barnes in her campaign, as she is one of his judicial appointees from 2004. But since Barnes has never faced opposition in an election prior to this year, she has not had a “real race” on her hands in the past, which may account for the recent challenge to her candidacy by Mims.
And while Barnes’ opponent, Kelly Mims, does not have any judicial experience, he does have previous campaign on his resume. In 2003, Mims was the Democrat nominee for State Representative, District 17 (in the Tupelo area), running against Brian Aldridge. Aldridge, a staunch conervative, won that general election against Mims.

The word from North Mississippi is that Mims has been encouraged to get in the race for the Court of Appeals by Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Franks. Mims, a protégé of Jamie Franks, will likely heavily rely on Franks for funds and strategy in this race.

Mims is currently practicing law in Tupelo as a partner in the Mims and Logan, LLC law firm. A quick review of Mims’s law firm website will quickly raise some eyebrows among law enforcement and conservative leaning voters in the district. For example, on the home page of the website there is a prominent link titled “HOW TO AVOID ARREST VIDEO”. After clicking on that link, you land at this page about Criminal Law and read things such as “The DA, the Police and the Court can all seem to be working against you. You need an experienced legal team to fight for your rights and to help you navigate the dark waters. Call Mims & Logan today.” That’s not exactly the “tough on crime” message that Mississippi voters are used to hearing from their candidates.

What may be the most interesting part of Kelly Mims’s law firm’s website is this previously mentioned “HOW TO AVOID ARREST VIDEO” which is a 45 minute film that includes an opening scene of a staged speeding ticket traffic stop with a police officer questioning three teenagers in a car. When the police officer suspects drugs in the car, he says things like “it smells like Bob Marley’s ass in here!” The video then moves on to remarks by a former Executive Director of the ACLU about civil liberties, but he makes no mention of any of Bob Marley’s body parts. This “HOW TO AVOID AREEST VIDEO” can be found on Mims’s website at the bottom of this page.

Clearly there is intriguing matchup in this campaign with a cast of characters ranging from Jamie Franks, Bob Marley and Haley Barbour…and between the candidates themselves, Judge Donna Barnes vs. Kelly Mims. This one is going to be good.