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Retired Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey dies at 83

A Mississippi judge whose lengthy career in law earned him the respect of lawyers all over Mississippi died Friday.

Retired Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey died at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Calhoun City after being hospitalized for heart problems.

He was 83 years old.

Judge Henry Lackey

A funeral service will be held Sunday, Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Calhoun City. Visitation will be 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the church. Pryor Funeral Home in Calhoun City is in charge of arrangements.

Lackey was a circuit judge for of the Third Judicial District for 17 years before retiring in 2010. Earlier, he served as Mississippi’s first public defender in a pilot program.

He served on the judicial disciplinary Commission on Judicial Performance for six years. He was chairman at the time he retired in December 2010.

Lackey left his mark on the judiciary with an unwavering commitment to judicial integrity.

In 2007, Lackey made national headlines when wore a wire for the FBI after being approached by former attorney Timothy Balducci asking him to rule in favor of then-attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs in exchange for $40,000. Lackey immediately contacted the FBI and the lengthy investigation eventually led to prison sentences for Scruggs, Balducci and several other attorneys.

However, Lackey’s life and career were so much more than one bribery case.

For more than 70 years, he was a member of First Baptist Church in Calhoun City, and served as a deacon. He taught Sunday School for about 50 years. He and his friends played in a small band that entertained at nursing homes and at other benefit programs. 

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said, “He was one of the most outstanding jurists in the history of the state.”

Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed Judge Lackey to the Third Circuit District of Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Lafayette, Marshall, Tippah and Union counties in 1993. He was elected four times without opposition. He continued his judicial service after he retired from the Circuit Court bench. Six days after his last term ended, he signed up as a senior status judge. For seven more years, he heard cases around the state by appointment of the Supreme Court, taking over for judges who stepped aside due to conflicts. He handled 45 cases as a senior status judge.

Judge Lackey grew up in Calhoun City. He graduated from Calhoun City High School in 1952 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Mississippi College in 1956. He paid a large portion of his tuition by working part-time for Deposit Guaranty National Bank while he was a student, and from his childhood savings. When he was in elementary and high school, he ran his popcorn popper at his father’s Ben Franklin five and ten-cent store in Calhoun City.

Shortly after he earned his undergraduate degree, he went home to run the family business after his father passed away. Several years later, his National Guard unit was activated. He served in the U.S. Army in 1961 and 1962.

He enrolled in law school immediately after he left the Army. He graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1966. He was soon elected Calhoun County prosecuting attorney and served a four-year term.

He then accepted an appointment for a year as the state’s first public defender. Judge Soggy Sweat oversaw the pilot program at the University of Mississippi School of Law. Lackey and three senior law students represented indigent defendants in the seven counties of the Third Circuit District. The pilot program helped lay the groundwork for the Legislature to give counties authority to designate funds for public defenders.

He returned to private law practice in Calhoun City and served as board attorney for the Calhoun County Board of Supervisors for eight years. He was a solo practitioner for 26 years, representing every kind of case that came through his door. He was a member of the Mississippi Bar for almost 52 years, having been admitted to the practice of law on Aug. 21, 1966. He was a former president of the Calhoun County Bar Association and the Third Circuit Bar Association. He was a fellow of the Mississippi Bar Foundation. He was the recipient of numerous honors and awards. He was the 2008 recipient of the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Award, and in 2009 he was honored by Mississippi College as Alumnus of the Year. He previously served on the Board of Trustees of Mississippi College.

He is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, retired music teacher Helen Rose James Lackey of Calhoun City, and son Kevin Lackey of Ridgeland, director of the Administrative Office of Courts.

Story courtesy of Pryor Funeral Home and staff reports.

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