By Patsy R. Brumfield
GREENVILLE – Last September, friends of Jackson attorney Debra Brown said she was ready to become a federal judge.
Almost six weeks ago, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed her nomination to the U.S. District Court bench in Greenville, a slot suddenly vacated in early 2012 with the death of W. Allen Pepper Jr.
However, 49-year-old Brown is not at the post, has not yet been sworn in, isn’t on the federal payroll and is not yet living in the Mississippi River port city.
By comparison, the previous new judge – Carlton Reeves, a fellow Yazoo City native – took his oath of office and started work 11 days after his Senate confirmation.
Neither Brown nor anyone professionally associated with her has returned Daily Journal phone calls inquiring about the delay in assuming the judgeship.
Others familiar with the situation say she appears still to be looking for suitable housing and is expected to start work soon.
The judicial seat handles cases arising from the Delta region of the Northern District of Mississippi.
Since Pepper’s death, his case load was taken on by judges Michael P. Mills in Oxford and Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen, as well as senior judges Neal B. Biggers Jr. and Glen H. Davidson and, in some instances, by magistrate judges S. Allan Alexander, Jennie Virden and David Sanders.
That’s been almost two years.
Mills, the district’s chief judge, declined to comment on the lack of a third working district judge, who will draw $174,000 in annual pay in the life-time appointment. But Mills is on record as urging Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker to work with President Obama to fill the seat as soon as possible.
Brown, who holds architecture and law degrees, was nominated by Obama on May 16 and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Aug. 1.
The Mississippi Bar directory lists her as a U.S. district judge, but her office phone number and email address remain with the Jackson law firm Wise Carter & Childs, where she has been a shareholder since January 2012. Before that, she worked more than 14 years at the Jackson firm, Phelps Dunbar.
When she is sworn in, Brown becomes Mississippi’s first African American female U.S. District judge.