The benched jungle|Judge’s chambers akin to ‘Wild Kingdom’

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 13, 2009

When 9th District Circuit Court Judge Jim Chaney returned to the Warren County Courthouse a few weeks ago after presiding over his first grand jury session in Issaquena County, he turned a few heads.

It’s not often a judge can be seen carrying his judicial robe in one hand and a stuffed armadillo in the other.

Chaney, appointed June 1 by Gov. Haley Barbour to fill the vacancy created when former Judge Frank Vollor retired, has been presiding over court actions and setting up his private chambers on the second floor of the courthouse. The armadillo is just one of the items Chaney has brought in.

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A graduate of the University of Mississippi, where he attended both undergraduate and law school, Chaney’s got a definite Ole Miss bent to his taste — a gourd painted as “Colonel Reb,” a 2009 football schedule and a framed print of the Frank Everett drawing of the Lyceum on the campus.

As an avid outdoorsman, he’s even got an armadillo story or two to tell.

“Some people call it a possum on the half-shell,” Chaney laughed, holding up the taxidermied specimen he calls “The Dilla.”

Though Chaney’s a hunter and could give lessons on catching armadillos when he was still in high school, he got The Dilla on a quick trip to Mexico about 20 years ago. He had gone to south Texas for a long fishing weekend with his former father-in-law and some cronies, and the group crossed the border looking for a good dinner.

While waiting for their table, they browsed a few tourist vendor stalls nearby. Chaney spotted two stuffed armadillos in one of them.

“I had never seen a stuffed, mounted armadillo before and I was mildly curious what they cost,” he said. “I’d had a mounted bobcat before and I wanted to compare the prices.”

The hawker told him $75. He thought the price was probably reasonable but he really wasn’t looking to buy an armadillo so he started to move along. “The guy insisted that I make an offer,” Chaney said, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so Chaney offered something he thought would get rid of the vendor — $10.

“He really got indignant and upset,” he said. “He was yelling and carrying on. I think he was cussing me out in Spanish.”

When the men he was with signalled that their table was ready, Chaney began to walk away. Before he knew it, the man had the armadillo crammed into a bag — tail sticking out — and was asking for his $10. Chaney — and his purchase — took a seat for dining.

“We got a lot more than $10 worth of entertainment out of it just with all the harassing they did to me,” he laughed. “They passed it around, and gave me a hard time, saying why would anybody buy an armadillo. I think they all had their pictures taken with it.”

Since then The Dilla has been to school with Chaney’s children, used for show and tell and borrowed by teachers and friends. “Somewhere along the way he got a broken leg from one of his field trips,” he said. The leg’s been mended, but “he’s not in as good a shape as he used to be.”

Chaney was in private practice for many years with the firm Teller, Chaney, Hassell and Hopson. He also served as legal counsel to the Vicksburg Warren School Board of Trustees.

Chaney’s early interest — in both armadillos and the law — came through his friendship with the family of Judge Ben Guider, who was on the bench when Chaney began his law practice in the 1970s. Growing up, Chaney was friends with two of Guider’s sons, and worked summers with them at Warner-Tully YMCA Camp in Claiborne County. They’d often go into the woods and catch armadillos — “you just chase them and catch them with your hands,” he said, “grabbing them on the back or on the tail, wrestle them a bit and stuff them into a sack” — and with John Guider even took a couple of the animals back to Ole Miss after a weekend at home to stage armadillo races in the dorm.

Chaney, a hunter and fisherman, also has a mounted 9-point buck on one of the walls in his chambers. The deer has eight pronounced points along with a “kicker” coming off one of them.

“The unofficial rule among hunters is you can count it as a point if you can hang a ring on it,” he said. Chaney killed the deer, which he estimated weighed “195 pounds field dressed and 245 on the hoof” — near the Big Black River in Bovina.

He also has a long rattlesnake skin, which he found intact in his backyard.

At Christmas time his wife, Monnie, used to decorate the deer antlers with ornaments and they stuck a red-painted ball on its nose. One year, she tied the snake skin around its neck in a Christmas bow, and tore a section of the tissue-like skin. Chaney taped it back together and still gets a mock-indignant look when he tells the story.

He’s also got the foot and partial leg of a wild turkey he shot and some small carved hunting dog figures.

And Chaney is proud of two restored old photos of his grandfather, Mark Chaney. One shows Mark Chaney as a soldier in France during World War I. The other is a group photo, dated April 9, 1924, of the Mississippi Legislature, where Mark Chaney served one term.

“I am really enjoying it,” he said of his new position, and he plans to run for the office in next year’s election. He still has at least one more thing to get, however, before his office decor is complete.

“I’ve got to get a picture of my wife in here,” he mused.


Contact Pamela Hitchins at