Vollor trails Smith for court

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2000

The Associated Press declared incumbent Jim Smith the winner Wednesday morning of the Mississippi Supreme Court District 1, Position 3 race with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.

The 22 counties in the district include Warren County where Circuit Judge Frank Vollor claimed 14,041 votes to Smith’s 3,727, but that was not enough put Vollor on top after night of seesawing returns.

“It was a good race,” Vollor said from his home in Vicksburg around 10 this morning. “I knew that if I had any chance at all, it was going to be close.”

Across the district, Smith led by by a margin of 11,852 votes with 147,026 to Vollor’s 135,174.

To the south, Claiborne County voters also went to Vollor with 3,279 votes to Smith’s 1,081.

In Sharkey County, voters gave the nod to Vollor with 1,604 votes to 899 for Smith while in Issaquena Vollor had 562 votes to Smith’s 280. Both counties are in the 9th Circuit District that, along with Warren, have been served by Vollor as a circuit judge since 1989.

“I’ve felt good all along,” Smith said Tuesday night. “I realized it was going to be tough, but I’m grateful to the people for their confidence in me.”

Smith, 56, has been on the Supreme Court for seven years. Vollor, 52, has been a circuit judge for 11 years.

The race between the two had been mired in the controversy over U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads for incumbents. The Chamber also supported Chief Justice Lenore Prather and one of Justice Oliver Diaz’s opponents, Circuit Judge Keith Starrett. In a pre-election interview, Smith said he didn’t ask for or know about the Chamber TV ads and wished they had stayed out.

Prather was narrowly defeated by Columbus attorney Chuck Easley. In the same north Mississippi district Justice Kay Cobb won re-election over Percy Lynchard.

Diaz advanced to a runoff after amassing a big lead against two opponents but not enough to win outright. Votes were still being counted to determine his opponent.

In the only contested Appeals Court campaign, incumbent D. Rook Moore III of Holly Springs was defeated by Ackerman attorney David “Tony” Chandler, 53.

Moore, 57, had been appointed by Gov. Kirk Fordice.

Prather, 69, was appointed to the court in 1982 by then Gov. William Winter. She became chief justice in 1998. She had tried to stay out of the advertising controversy, at one point calling on the Chamber to cancel its ads.

“I’m very surprised at the closeness of all the Supreme Court races,” Prather said. “It could be we didn’t do a good job of informing (voters),” Prather said.

Easley said the vote shows Mississippians “had enough of this liberal court and this money coming in.”

“I owe a big thank you to law enforcement, sheriffs and the men and women behind me,” he said.

The judicial campaigns set a spending record, costing well over $2 million. In the Southern District alone, three Supreme Court candidates had raised and spent more than $1 million.

Pro-business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and trial lawyer groups were heavily involved in the races with the trial lawyers supporting Vollor, among others.

Twice, judges barred the U.S. Chamber television advertisements as illegal and unfair in Mississippi’s nonpartisan judicial elections. Twice, the U.S. Supreme Court said the ads could be aired.

A runoff in the Southern District for Diaz’s seat will be held Nov. 21. Diaz 40, will face either Circuit Judge Billy Joe Landrum of Laurel or Starrett of McComb. Landrum and Starrett were in a tight race. Diaz had served five years on the Court of Appeals before being appointed to the high court by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in March.

“The secret to winning the runoff,” said Starrett, “is to get the voters back to the polls.”

Starrett, 48, had the support of the Chamber of Commerce. He has served as circuit judge for eight years and practiced law in Pike County for more than 17 years. Landrum, 64, has served 25 years on the bench in Jones County, 13 as circuit judge and 12 as a county judge.

Cobb, 57, had been appointed to the bench from north Mississippi in 1999 by Fordice. She beat Lynchard, a two-term chancery court judge from DeSoto County and a former municipal judge.

“I’m delighted. I attribute my win to the strong grassroots efforts made by friends in all 33 counties,” Cobb said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.