By Billy Davis
BATESVILLE – Assistant District Attorney Smith Murphey slipped into a judge’s robe Tuesday, held for him by wife Carole, in a ceremony to mark his first term as circuit court judge.
The ceremony marks a memorable change in the five-county 17th District, where outgoing Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker has sat on the bench for more than three decades.
Baker did not seek re-election, setting up a four-way race for the open seat that Murphey, 42, won handily.
The investiture of Murphey was held in Batesville at the Panola County Courthouse.
Murphey, in his remarks Tuesday, thanked voters for entrusting him with the judge’s seat held by Baker.
“I wish I had a nickel every time somebody told me those are big shoes to fill,” he said, surmising they are a “size 15 or 16 shoe” due to Baker’s legacy.
Baker, 74, administered the judicial oath of office.
“This is the loneliest job you’ll have in your life,” Baker told his successor, though he also said other judges are a phone call away.
Former 17th District Circuit Judge George C. Carlson, now a state Supreme Court justice, echoed those remarks.
“This is the toughest job in the world,” said Carlson, describing a “split-second decision” Murphey must make during a trial, when a lawyer voices an objection while a witness is testifying and jurors are watching.
Baker also raised the issue of Murphey’s tenure as a prosecutor, telling him that “lawyers are watching you because they don’t want a prosecutor.”
“Give them a level playing field,” Baker urged his successor.
Murphey moved to Batesville from Sumner, Miss. in 1999, when he was hired by former District Attorney Bobby Williams.
Murphey had been serving as a law clerk for the Mississippi Supreme Court when he was hired as an assistant DA.
He had earned a business degree at Ole Miss before attending Mississippi College School of Law. He earned a law degree in 1994.
Murphey first ran for a circuit judge seat in 2008 in a special election, losing to incumbent Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure.
Political observers have said Murphey never stopped running for office, bolstered by word that Baker was set to announce his retirement.
Murphey’s tireless run for office was mentioned repeatedly at the investiture ceremony, with speakers observing that Murphey will also work hard to learn the job quickly.
“Smith is studious and persistent,” said 1st District Circuit Judge Jim Roberts Jr. “He is devoted to the law and to his family.”
Roberts had formerly served as a Supreme Court justice, and he jokingly recalled hiring Murphey as a law clerk after the law school student refused to leave.
“He was one of the best that I had. Always professional,” Roberts said.
Others who spoke at the investiture included 17th District Circuit Court Judge Robert Chamberlin, who introduced the speakers, Supreme Court Justice Ann Lamar, and District Attorney John Champion.