Vollor, Smith banking on meeting voters

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 2, 2000

This is the first in a series of reports on races that will be on Tuesday’s ballots.

Circuit Judge Frank Vollor of Vicksburg has been hot on the campaign trail this week, hoping to convince voters in 22 counties to send him to the state Supreme Court.

Vollor, 52, began his week on the bench in Warren, one of three counties he serves as a trial judge, for a bond hearing Monday. Since then he has traveled to Carthage, Meridian, Jackson and Greenville trying to drum up support for the contest that includes all central Mississippi counties.

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“I’m trying to do everything I can to meet people,” Vollor said.

While Vollor was campaigning around the district, his opponent in the Nov. 7 election, one-term incumbent Justice Jim Smith, 57, was in Vicksburg looking to gain support.

“The most important issue (to the people) has been fairness and keeping a level playing field,” Smith said.

The Smith-Vollor race is one of four for the state’s highest court that has drawn attention from the State Attorney General’s Office over television ads supporting four incumbents.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate had been expected to issue his ruling Tuesday on how much information groups must disclose if they get involved in state campaigns, but postponed the ruling because of a drug case.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce paid for advertisements supporting Smith and three others, but did not file any information with the Secretary of State’s Office. The advertising has totaled more than $400,000.

“This was independent of my campaign and I wish it had never started,” Smith said today, adding that he felt the national organization’s venture into state judicial matters was done without even informing him.

According to campaign disclosure reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office Tuesday, Vollor has spent $402,641 on the race while Smith has spent $197,193. Those figures do not include the ads sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

Vollor said that a group called Mississippi for Independent Judiciaries had sponsored television ads for him in response to the Chamber ads. He has since asked the group to stop, he said.

“We’ve got to put a stop to all of this,” Vollor said.

A Warren County native, Vollor is the senior judge of the Ninth Circuit Court District covering Warren, Sharkey and Issaquena counties. He said the biggest difference between him and his opponent is trial experience.

“There needs to be more Circuit Court experience on the Supreme Court,” Vollor said.

In serving as a circuit judge since 1989, Vollor said he has tried all kinds of cases. Circuit courts hear all civil cases above $75,000 and all felony criminal cases.

Smith has served as attorney for the city of Pearl, Rankin County prosecuting attorney, district attorney and Rankin County Court judge.

“I’m proud of my record on the court,” Smith said.

During his six-year-term on the bench, Smith has voted to uphold 90.4 percent of trial cases that have gone before the court, he said.

“I know reversible error when I see it,” he said. “And I know harmless error.”

Supreme Court judges are paid based on their position on the court. The chief justice is paid $104,900 yearly, while the presiding justice makes $102,900, and associate justices are paid $102,300. Vollor’s salary is $94,000 yearly in his current position.

Tuesday, races on the Warren County ballot will include the presidential race, a U.S. Senate seat and a U.S. House seat.

In local races, Ronald C. Regan, Allen Maxwell, Mark Morgan, Wanda Shay Clark Odom and John A. Thomason III will appear on the special election ballot for the county coroner’s post.

In Warren County Election Commission races, three incumbents will face challengers in their bid for another four-year term.

District 4 Election Commissioner James E. McMullin, a Republican, will face independent candidate Bobbie Williamson. In District 3, Republican Nancy Clingan is looking to upset Democrat LaShondra Williams. In District 5, incumbent Gordon “Motor” Carr, a Republican, is challenged by fellow Republican Karoline Finch.

District 2 U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson is seeking another trip to Washington, but will have to get past three opponents: Republican Hardy Caraway, Libertarian William Chipman and Reform Party candidate Lee Dilworth.

Democrat Troy Brown Sr. is looking to upset Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican from the Gulf Coast who is running for a third six-year term. Other hopefuls in that race are Libertarian Lewis Napper, Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara and independent Jim Giles.

On the Mississippi Court of Appeals, incumbent Leslie King will be unopposed in his bid for his second six-year term in District 2, Position 2.

Zelmarine Murphy is unopposed in her bid for re-election to the School Board District 2 spot.