Judge Matthew Sullivan, DA Christopher Hennis sworn in on March 5

March 9, 2021

A large crowd of people gathered in the parking lot outside the Smith County Courthouse in Raleigh on March 5 to watch new Circuit Judge Matthew G. Sullivan and new District Attorney Christopher D. Hennis take their oaths of office.

Joel Smith

Gov. Tate Reeves appointed Judge Sullivan on March 4 to the judicial vacancy created by the Feb. 7 death of Circuit Judge Eddie H. Bowen. Sullivan served for six years as District Attorney. His appointment to the bench created a vacancy for the district’s top prosecutor. The Governor appointed Hennis to replace Sullivan as District Attorney.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph administered the oaths of office to both men on the porch of the Courthouse as the Governor looked on.

The 13th Circuit District includes Covington, Jasper, Simpson and Smith counties.

Gov. Reeves said Judge Sullivan is strong, fair-minded and hard working. “It is critical to the mission of law and order that we appoint quality judges to the courts, people who have a firm grasp of the rule of law,” he said.

Hennis served as an Assistant District Attorney for the past seven years. The Governor said, “We are so blessed and so fortunate to have a very capable Assistant District Attorney ready to step up” to serve as District Attorney.

Hennis said after he took the oath, “I am truly humbled by the confidence you placed in me. I promise to you that I will strive and do my utmost every day to protect that confidence.”

Hennis, a prosecutor for almost 16 years, said he views the job as protecting the rights of victims as well as those accused of wrongdoing. “The role of a prosecutor is not to get convictions,” he said, although prosecutors like convictions. “A prosecutor is a minister of justice.” That duty may be to seek the death penalty, or to dismiss a case of one wrongfully accused.

Judge Sullivan told the Governor, “I thank you for placing your faith in me to do this job.” He told the crowd, “I promise to protect the weak and have mercy on those deserving of it.” He said, “I promise to make each one of you proud, to do the best that I can.”

Gov. Reeves said he’s made a lot of tough decisions during the past 12 months of the pandemic. But picking the new judge and district attorney wasn’t hard. “I’m proud of them and I know they will do a fantastic job for the people of this district,” he said.

Gov. Reeves thanked Judge Bowen’s family for his service. “Job well done,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Jonas Bowen, son of the late Judge Bowen, said the pandemic hit hard. His father died of COVID-19. Circuit Judge Stanley Sorey’s wife, Lynn Sorey, died Oct. 8, 2020, from the coronavirus.

Jonas Bowen said he has known Sullivan and Hennis most of his life. He said they are men of integrity, honor and loyalty. Addressing the Governor, he said, “My Dad would respect your wisdom in choosing two men who have the right abilities at the right time.”

Judge Sorey said, “They are the best fit for the job.”

Judge Sorey said that his best advice for them comes from the Bible, Micah 6:8: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Chief Justice Randolph said that the constitutions of all 50 states refer to God. “Be grateful to almighty God for your opportunity to serve.”

Judge Sullivan served as an assistant district attorney before he was elected for the first time in 2015. Eddie Bowen was his predecessor as both District Attorney and Circuit Judge. Bowen as District Attorney hired Sullivan as an assistant in 2007.

Judge Sullivan practiced law from 2005 to 2007 with now 13th District Chancellor Gerald Martin in Taylorsville, before Judge Martin was elected to the bench. He served as vice-president and on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association and was vice-chair of the Prosecutors Section of the Mississippi State Bar Executive Committee. He is a graduate of Mississippi College and earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 2005.

Judge Sullivan, 40, is a lifelong resident of Mize. His family has lived in Smith County for seven generations. He is married to Kayla Dupree Sullivan, and they have a four-year-old son.

Hennis, 49, has served as an Assistant District Attorney for the past seven years. He previously served for nine years as County Prosecutor for Smith County, and was in private law practice. He served as a state trooper for seven years, and was on the SWAT team. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice with a minor in Spanish from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a law degree from Mississippi College School of Law. He joined the U.S. Marines at age 17. His four-year tour of duty included Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.

Hennis grew up in the Beaver Dam community near Raleigh. He and his wife, Lisa, have four children.