Editor’s note: This is the first story profiling candidates for judge in the 16th Circuit Court District in Tuesday’s general election. The Daily News staff is working to contact other candidates in races to be profiled and will publish those stories as soon as interviews occur.
Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens has no plans to take his robe off after wearing it for almost 8 years.
Running again to serve the 16th Circuit Court District for a third term on the bench, Kitchens says he wants to continue providing safe, prosperous neighborhoods and improving the welfare of people affected by his rulings.
Kitchens is running for the Place 1 judgeship against William Starks.
Since Kitchens was first elected, he formed a partnership with treatment programs such as Recovery House in New Hope and Buried Treasures, sending their way more than 200 people who’ve made a 90 percent success rate with both completion of programs and eradication of future offenses, he said.
And before determining the future of felons, Kitchens counsels them, hoping they’ll understand that they do not have to continue the cycle of self-victimization and drug abuse.
“I don’t talk to them any differently than my dad did with me when I did something against the rules,” he said.
Like many of them, Kitchens said he wasn’t born into a life of luxury and came from a line of bona fide laborers. His great-grandfather mined for coal, his grandfather worked was a carpenter and his father served as a soldier. Kitchens said he learned early that nothing pays like old fashioned hard work, even for minimum wage at 19 years old for making pants.
Later he worked on an off-shore oil rig and funded his economics degree at Mississippi State University with jobs at Wal-Mart and McRae’s.
Kitchens continued working and studying his way through law school at Mississippi College.
It was his pre-college years, however, that taught him the value of not only a solid work ethic but also a sense of justice.
The first 18 years of his life — saturated with the “color blind” military community made up of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds — profoundly impacted the way he handles criminals, as if he sees them as more than just criminals.
“I learned that we all want the same things — jobs, education, safe neighborhoods,” he said, “and I try to help this community along in that direction with the decisions I make.”
Many of them thank him later for those decisions, Kitchens said, and he doesn’t care of some of them were popular with the public.
“I don’t go on the Internet and seek out approval or disapproval of how I’ve handled some cases,” he said.
Doing so, he added, could affect future similar cases thrown in his lap.
“I might overlook the facts in the second case instead of looking to listen to the facts and apply the law,” he said. “If I’m wrong, I’m not going to be wrong for the wrong reasons.”
For those reasons, Kitchens has confidence that he chose the right career path and has continued making the right decisions ever since.
“At 47, I’m doing the job I always wanted to do in the place I’ve always wanted to be,” Kitchens said.