Gardner announces bid for Supreme Court seat
By Philip Moulden
First Circuit Senior Judge Thomas Gardner III said Thursday he will seek the state Supreme Court seat vacated last year by former Chief Justice Armis Hawkins.
“It’s an honorable undertaking,” Gardner said. “I am interested in doing whatever I can to serve the justice system.
“In the course of considering this I have talked with a number of people I know in the district and have been encouraged to do this,” he added.
The announcement pits him against former state Rep. Mike Mills, who was appointed last November by Gov. Kirk Fordice to fill Hawkins’ unexpired term. Mills said upon his appointment he would seek to retain the seat in November’s election.
No other candidates have announced for the position, although qualifying doesn’t end until May 10. The election will be Nov. 5.
“I am glad to have that much time,” said Gardner, who cited a busy court docket through the rest of the year. “It’s a big district. I intend to go to every county to pursue this thing.”
The Supreme Court is composed of nine justices, three from each of three districts. Justices are elected to alternate eight-year terms.
Only one Northern District seat is up for grabs this year. The district encompasses 33 counties.
Gardner, 59, of Tupelo, who has practiced law 30 years, served four years as a Lee County public defender and four as an assistant district attorney before being elected to a judgeship in the 1st Circuit in 1980. He became senior judge in 1991.
“I’ve handle many, many cases … a wide variety of cases,” he said. “I consider this to be good training and the kind of experience somebody on the Supreme Court should have.”
And it’s experience that will be the key issue, Gardner said.
“He (Mills) has not been there, he doesn’t have the experience and understanding of what’s taking place (in the courts),” Gardner said.
“I’m convinced I have demonstrated in the past 15 years that I have the temperament and ability to handle all cases,” he said.
Gardner said his record shows a consistent and even-handed approach to all parties. And it shows he can make the tough decisions according to law, he said.
“I think I have demonstrated the willingness to do that in circumstances where it wasn’t particularly the acceptable (popular) thing,” he said. “If I’m fortunate enough to be elected to the Supreme Court, I intend to continue to do that.”
Gardner urged voters to confer with people who have dealt with the court to assess his fairness and capabilities.
“I think they understand I will provide both sides with a level playing field … and they know that’s what a judge ought to do.
“I think there would be that consensus of those who have been here. You can’t please everybody. No baseball player bats a thousand and no judge bats a thousand.”
While Gardner is a Democrat and Mills is a Republican, party affiliations will play no overt role in the election. The Legislature removed partisan politics from most judicial elections in 1994.
“I’ve been for that all along,” Gardner said. “Judges do not have any need for political affiliations in my opinion. They are to interpret and apply the law … not formulate law or policy …”