Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Retiring Circuit Judge Vernon Cotten honored

May 19, 2017

A long line of people stretched outside the National Guard Armory in Carthage Thursday afternoon as colleagues, friends and well-wishers gathered at a retirement ceremony honoring Circuit Judge Vernon R. Cotten.Retiring Circuit Judge Vernon Cotten honored

“More than anything I can say here today, this room is a testament to you, ”fellow Eighth District Circuit Judge Christopher Collins of Union told Judge Cotten and those who gathered to honor him. Visitors came from across the four-county district and across the state. They were fellow judges, court clerks and staff, lawyers, law enforcement officers, professional and business men and women, friends and family that included three of his nine grandchildren.

  Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. exclaimed, “What a great occasion to celebrate a wonderful career.” He presented a plaque signed by all nine Supreme Court justices honoring Judge Cotten’s 43 years of public service, including nearly 20 years as Circuit Judge.

After shaking hands with or accepting congratulatory hugs for more than an hour, Judge Cotten stood before the crowd and said, “This is a little bit overwhelming. I’m not sure how to begin.”

He looked to scripture, quoting the Book of Luke: To whom much is given, much is expected.

Judge Cotten’s greatest contribution as a judge was his creation of the Eighth Judicial District Drug Court, which began in 2003 and has expanded to include special programs for DUI offenders and veterans. The Drug Court in Leake, Neshoba, Newton and Scott counties was the fourth such program in the state, before drug courts spread statewide.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd of Jackson told Judge Cotten, “You serve as a wonderful example of what every drug court judge should aspire to be.”

Circuit Judge Vernon Cotten

Judge Collins said that Judge Cotten strived to rehabilitate those who came into the Drug Court, telling participants that human lives would not be thrown away. “I know what your heart is. I know what your passion is. It’s the Drug Court,” Judge Collins said, pledging to carry the work forward.

Judge Cotten said of the Drug Court participants: “These are people who have fallen, broken lives. They are just like us.”

 He deflected the praise, crediting the Drug Court’s organization and success to Drug Court Coordinator Marcus Ellis, a retired Army Senior Counterintelligence Warrant Officer who has been the driving force behind the program. “Thank the Lord that I’ve been a part of that,” Judge Cotten said. “It’s been a wonderful journey.”

 Court Administrator Lindsey S. Lickness presented Judge Cotten with a gift from court staff for his continuing journey in retirement: a handcrafted walking staff. “It’s not a bicycle,” Ellis quipped as the judge began to unwrap the package, with help from youngest granddaughter Abigail Frost. Judge Cotten, 80, is an avid bicyclist.

 The Drug Court staff gave him a wood framed desk clock. It is a reminder, Ellis said, of their many conversations about the sands of time.

Judge Cotten will retire May 31.