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On the Ballot: Synopsis of Tomorrow’s Candidates

By Alyssa Schnugg
News Editor

Lafayette County Chancery Court, which is part of the 18th District.

Three Run for Lafayette County Chancery Court Judge Seat

The Lafayette County Chancery Court is often referred to as the “family court,” as it holds jurisdiction over matters like family law, sanity hearings, wills, child custody and adoptions.

After Judge Glenn Alderson announced he would not be seeking re-election, three attorneys qualified to run to take his Place One seat as 18th Chancery Court Judge – Lawrence “Larry” Little, Carnelia Fondren and Sarah J. Liddy.

The 18th Chancery Court is located in the Lafayette County Chancery Building and hears cases from Benton, Calhoun, Marshall, Tippah and Lafayette counties.

Chancery Court Judge elections are nonpartisan. Place Two Chancery Court Judge Bob Whitwell will run unopposed.

Carnelia Pettis Fondren

Lifelong Lafayette County resident, Carnelia Pettis Fondren received her Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Mississippi in 1979 her law degree from the UM law school in 1993.

Carnelia Pettis Fondren

She was managing attorney for North Mississippi Rural Legal Services for three years before becoming a criminal investigator with the Third Circuit Court and assistant district attorney from 1996 to 2005 when she left to open her own practice, Fondren Law Firm.

She specializes in family law, civil and criminal trial practice work involving families, domestic abuse, housing law, disability issues, social security and elderly rights.

“I started my legal career employed with (NMRLS) as a staff attorney for low-income clients in family law and other civil matters,” Fondren said. “(As assistant district attorney), I worked primarily family and domestic violence cases. Volunteering and serving in the 18th District has been a part of my legal career including serving on several nonprofits Board of Directors.”

Fondren said she has served as a legal advocate in more than 300 cases in the 18th District.

Fondren attended law school while raising three children and says that experience will help her should she win in November.

“I will bring my real-life experiences as a wife, mother, daughter, caregiver, teacher, businesswoman and lawyer to the bench,” she said.

Fondren said she would like the chance, along with the senior chancellor and attorneys in the 18th district, to improve the district for clients and attorneys.

“I look forward to implementing rules and procedures that will expedite legal proceedings for clients,” she said. “I know improving the court system requires all parties working together to get it done.”

Fondren promised to bring “efficiency, fairness, compassion and equity” to the bench.

“I am a candidate with experience and the judicial temperaments to be fair and impartial in deciding matters important to the heart,” she said.

Fondren is married to Wade Fondren Sr. and they have three grown children and four grandchildren.

Sarah J. Liddy

Liddy has been practicing law for 25 years, primarily taking on family law matters including divorce, child custody and support, adoptions, wills and estates and real estate issues. For the past 18 years, she’s served as Youth Court Referee and has also served as interim Youth Court Referee for Benton and Tippah counties.

Sarah J. Liddy

As a Chancery Court attorney for 25 years, Liddy has handled all types of Chancery cases – divorce, child custody, child support, parent and grandparent visitation rights, paternity, adoptions and more. As the Youth Court Referee, she oversees cases involving minors who are dealing with delinquency, truancy, abuse and neglect and need supervision.

“I also serve as Marshall County’s Master in Chancery hearing all mental health, drug and alcohol commitment petitions for involuntary treatment at the state hospitals,” she said. “When there has been a vacancy or conflict of interest, I have also served as Special Referee for Benton and Tippah counties.”

Liddy, a lifelong Marshall County resident, received her law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1992 after earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from Ole Miss in 1987.

Before entering private practice, she completed an internship and was a special assistant for the U.S. Attorney in Oxford, followed by a law clerkship for the Chancery and Circuit courts in Clarksdale.

Liddy said if elected, she will use her experiences working in most Chancery Courts in north Mississippi to institute new practices and become more efficient. She plans to do this by holding more hearings in a timely manner; by conducting pretrial/settlement conferences before final trial dates; by keeping updated court calendars online; holding office hours in each of the five counties; and by motivating all counties to use the Mississippi electronic filing system.

“My judicial experience has exposed me to some of the most serious situations families can encounter and where I have had to make very tough decisions,” Liddy said. “As Chancery Judge, I will continue to be fair and impartial and always keep the best interests of children as my primary focus.”

Liddy is married to Tim Bisenius. In their free time, they enjoy traveling and attending sporting and artistic events.

Larry Little

Little has been an attorney for 40 years. He served as District Attorney for the Third Circuit of the state of Mississippi for 10 years and as the Oxford Municipal Judge for 19 years. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law and a state-approved mediator.

Lawrence “Larry” Little

Originally from Cooter, Missouri, he attended college in Mississippi. In 1973, he received a B.A. from the University of Mississippi with a major in speech and a minor in English. He earned his Juris Doctorate from Jackson School of Law at Mississippi College in 1977 and completed the F.B.I. Law Institute in Quantico, Virginia in 1991.

“During my 40 years of law practice, I have had trials in Federal, Circuit and Chancery Courts,” Little said recently. “I am a litigator who will negotiate when necessary but will not back down from a difficult case, conflict or client.”

Little said he has represented clients in every aspect of Chancery Court, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, will contests, real property disputes, commercial litigation, commitments, guardianships, conservatorships and estates.

“My temperament and work ethic will allow me to achieve the daily goal of dealing with a myriad of cases on the docket, just as was done in my time on the bench as a Municipal judge,” he said. “My knowledge and experience gained from working with elected officials, court personnel, law enforcement, attorneys and individual in each county in the district will be used to produce an efficiently run court.”

As Oxford’s Municipal Judge for two decades, Little gained experience he said will help him excel as a Chancery judge.

“Serving as Oxford’s Municipal judge … provided experience in making decisions, moving cases along and getting along with people in law enforcement and defendants,” he said.

Little’s goal, should he win Nov. 6, will be to maintain efficiency and balance in the court docket.

“I will rule on cases with due regard for the law without favoritism,” he said. “As judge, I will do my best to help litigants realize the short-term consequences can result in improved relationships, a more productive life and peace from the current controversy.”

Little is married to Debbie and they have three married children and five grandchildren.

Circuit Court Judge Kelly Luther to Face Holly Springs Attorney

On Nov. 6, residents served by the Third Circuit Judicial District Court will cast their votes to select one Circuit Court judge to serve in the Post 2 seat, currently held by Judge Kelly Luther, who is seeking re-election.

The Third Circuit Judicial District Court serves seven counties including Lafayette, Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Marshall, Tippah, and Union counties.

Circuit Courts are where felony criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits occur as well as appeals from the lower county, justice and municipal courts and from administrative boards and commissions such as the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.

Circuit Court judges are selected in non-partisan elections to serve four-year terms.

In Lafayette County, there are three judicial seats. Current sitting Judges are Andrew Howorth, John Gregory and Luther.

Luther is the only judge in the Third Circuit who has an opponent in the Nov. 6 election. Shirley C. Byers, a Holly Springs attorney, is running against Luther for the second time.

Luther and Byers went head-to-head in 2014. Luther won the election bringing in 76 percent of the votes.

Howorth and Gregory are running unopposed in November.

Kelly Luther
Incumbent Luther lives in Tippah County and lived most of his life in Pontotoc. He received his undergraduate degree in 1986 from the University of Mississippi and his law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1989. He completed his coursework for Judge Training at The National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada when he first took office in January 2015.

Circuit Court Judge Kelly Luther Photo provided.

Prior to being elected as Circuit Court Judge, he was an assistant district attorney prosecuting felony criminal cases in the Third Circuit Judicial District. He served as the elected County Prosecuting Attorney for Pontotoc County from 1992 through 1996. From January 1991 until November 1992, he served as the City Judge for the City of Pontotoc.

Luther says his experience working in the Third Circuit District for the last 23 years puts him ahead of his opponent.

“The vast majority of the Circuit Courts workload is handling the criminal docket and my career has been spent in that area of the law since first becoming a judge back in January of 1991,” he said. “There is simply no substitute for experience.”

If re-elected, Luther says his primary goal is to expand the Drug Court program. The Drug Court was held only in Lafayette County since it began several years ago; however, Luther was able to start a Drug Court program recently in Tippah County. The two programs now have more than 300 participants who will spend about three years in the program working on beating drug addiction and ultimately, have their criminal charges set aside if completed successfully.

“Drug Court participants have to report to Oxford or Ripley an average of about two times a week for random drug testing,” Luther said. “Our District is so large that many people who would benefit from the program simply do not have the means to make that trip. I hope to work with churches and civic organization to help arrange transportation for those people who cannot participate in Drug Court because of transportation issues.”

Luther says working with the Drug Court program has allowed him to finally feel he is making a difference in the lives of the participants and the community overall.

“I would encourage the public to visit a Drug Court session and I believe that they will be impressed with the work being done,” Luther said.

Luther has two adult children, Lydia and Levi.

Shirley Byers

Shirley C. Byers

Byers has a private practice in Holly Springs. Her experience includes serving as the elected prosecuting attorney for Marshall County and the city attorney for Holly Springs. She has also worked as a public defender, a plaintiff’s attorney and in corporate law.

She served one term as a circuit court judge in the mid-1990s in the Fourth Circuit Court District. She was not re-elected for a second term.

Byers did not respond to Hottytoddy.com’s request for an interview.

Two Vie For Lafayette School Board Seat

In July 2017, Leroy Thompson was appointed to the Lafayette County School Board as the representative of District 4, replacing Ken Hewlett who resigned from the board.

On Nov. 6, Thompson hopes to retain his seat when he faces opponent Mike Gooch.

The school board race is nonpartisan.

Leroy Thompson
Thompson, 73, graduated from Central High School in Oxford and went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Jackson State University. He earned his Masters of Education in counseling from the University of Mississippi.

Leroy Thompson. Photo provided. 

Before retiring, he worked as a high school instructor, employment counselor and hotel manager.

He says his education and experience as the incumbent make him the best candidate to serve on the school board.

“We, as a team, have made it a goal of striving through effective policy decisions of making the Lafayette County School District the best district in the state of Mississippi,” he said.

Thompson said his priorities in life are God, family and service to mankind, especially children.

“Because of these values and hard work, I have gone from poverty to a productive member of society,” he said.

He says he has no personal agenda to serve on the board, other than to continue to work in the best interest of Lafayette County children.

“I only want to continue the progress made under the present board and administration,” he said.

Thompson is married to Eulastine Martin Thompson. The couple has two adult children and are helping a young man, Robert, who they took into their home.

Mike Gooch

Gooch, a U.S. Army veteran and currently the director of Oxford Diagnostic Center, said his background in managing a multi-million-dollar budget and his ability to work well with a team makes him the best candidate to sit on the school board.

“I have one of the highest patient and employee satisfaction rates in the entire Baptist system,” he said. “I know how to work with people to achieve desired outcomes. Having been heavily involved in the planning phase of the new Baptist hospital will be beneficial to the school board during the planning and construction of our new elementary school.”

Gooch, 50, has four children with one currently a ninth-grader at Lafayette High School, which he says, gives him a vested interested in the school district.

A Lafayette High graduate himself, Gooch attended and graduated from the University of Mississippi. He is currently the president of the Oxford Lions Club and a graduate of Leadership Lafayette.

He says he’d like to see LCSD bring more technology into the classrooms to better prepare students for the future.

“I would also like to see our school continue its momentum towards becoming one of the top 10 school districts in Mississippi,” he said. “I feel it will be important to ensure our teachers have all of the necessary tools to achieve such a goal … Our children are our future and the viability of our community depends on us to ensure we give our children every opportunity to be successful.


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