Brian Kelley speaks to Starkville's board of aldermen during Friday afternoon interviews. The board named Kelley Starkville's next municipal judge.
December 15, 2018 10:02:25 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Starkville aldermen, in a vote that drew three abstentions, have named Brian Kelley Starkville's next municipal judge.
Kelley's appointment came Friday evening after the board of aldermen listened to interviews from eight candidates for the municipal judge position. The city was looking to replace current municipal judge Rodney Faver, who recently won a runoff election to the Chancery District 14, Place 1 judge seat and will vacate the municipal bench at the end of the year.
Kelley was the sole candidate aldermen voted on after Friday's interviews. He has practiced law in Mississippi for 16 years, opening a law practice in Starkville in 2004, and has maintained an active criminal defense practice.
He's also represented clients in municipal courts throughout Mississippi, has worked on behalf of the U.S. Attorney's Office and has represented major companies such as Wal-Mart.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker moved to appoint Kelley at a $55,000 salary effective Jan. 2, 2019, with a second from Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk. The board approved Kelley on a 4-0 vote, Ward 3's David Little and Ward 5's Patrick Miller joining Sistrunk and Walker.
Ward 1's Ben Carver, Ward 6's Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7's Henry Vaughn abstained from the vote, all citing they wanted to wait until Tuesday's regular board meeting to vote on the municipal judge hire.
Vaughn said he didn't expect to have to make a decision immediately after the interviews.
"I felt like we would leave the board meeting after listening to all the applicants and come back Tuesday night to make a decision," he said. "I'm trying to figure out what the rush is. We've seen a lot from eight candidates and we should have a little time to -- after we've heard what all was said -- play back in our mind who we think is the best candidate to take this city, in the future, in the direction it needs to go."
Perkins noted that Faver won't vacate his position until the end of the year and the board didn't need to rush, and Carver said he wasn't yet sure who he wanted to vote for.
However, Sistrunk said she doubted the four days between Friday's interviews and Tuesday's regular meeting would see much change in the board's opinions.
Walker said he felt the decision was in keeping with how the board normally handles interviews.
"We talk a lot about being fair and being consistent," Walker said. "The last department head we hired was for the parks department. We flew somebody all the way across the pond and others, and we made that decision right after that interview. Time and time again, we've made decisions after the interviews.
"I don't see this as breaking precedent," he continued. "I think if we would do the other (waiting to vote) it would, more times than not, be inconsistent with what has been the city's operating practice for the most part since I've been here."
Aldermen also interviewed local attorneys Bruce Brown, Jimmy Brown, Marty Haug, Jeffrey Hosford, Jay Hurdle, Caroline Moore and Whit Waide for the judge's post.
Changes to the court
Kelley has represented clients often in Starkville's municipal court. During his interview, he said he hopes to implement several changes to the court.
One, he said, is to rule more consistently in terms of non-adjudication -- or a process that allows first-time, non-violent offenders to plead guilty and agree to certain terms to avoid a permanent criminal conviction on their record.
"For example, if the circuit court has shown that it's going to non-adjudicate certain misdemeanor crimes, then I believe the municipal court should also non-adjudicate those crimes," Kelley said. "I believe that would be a more efficient manner of doing things that would benefit the prosecutor, the defendant, the circuit court and the city of Starkville."
Kelley said he would also look into offering pre-trial diversions and other options that may allow first-time offenders for certain crimes not to carry a permanent conviction.
"I'll be a heavy advocate for using every process our legislature has given us to give those people a chance," he said.
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