Speech to the Neshoba County Fair

By:  Jim Kitchens
Date: July 31, 2008
Location: Unknown

Speech to the Neshoba County Fair

Below is the text of the speech Jim Kitchens gave on Thursday, July 31, at the Neshoba County Fair:

I'm Jim Kitchens, and I bring you greetings from Crystal Springs, Mississippi, my hometown.

Next month, Miss Mary and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage. We've been blessed with five wonderful children - so far.

And it gets better. We have six marvelous grandchildren! The youngest, Little Jack Kitchens, is just six weeks old.

I know that I have much for which to be thankful. My mom, who turned 94 last week, still works full time; she has about 30 piano students.

She used to tell me that if we look closely enough at our lives, we can see God's little nudges along the way.

I've found that to be true. Every wonderful thing that's happened in my life has resulted from God's giving me a little nudge here and there.

I grew up working in my dad's wholesale grocery business, and on his farm. I delivered groceries to country stores all over Central Mississippi.

In college down at USM, I had jobs on campus and worked at the cattle sale. When I graduated, I thought I'd work in the family business the rest of my life.

But my younger brother, who was only 17, wanted to be a doctor, and he wanted to go to college at Ole Miss. Because my brother was so young, our dad wouldn't let him go all the way up to Oxford by himself. But Dad made a deal with me:

He said he'd let my brother go to Ole Miss if I'd go up there with him and go to law school.

So I did. And thanks to God's little nudge, I began a legal career I never could have imagined.

My first job in public service began when I was just 28 years old. Voters in four Mississippi counties elected me to three terms as district attorney.

Being a D. A. was a great job. I worked closely with law enforcement officers, many of whom are my close friends to this day. I also got to help a lot of people who had been on the receiving end of crime.

The truth is that, I'd still be there - but for a life-changing event.

In the late ‘70s, our son Dan was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is just about the worst word a mother and father can ever hear. I hope you never have to watch one of your children battle such a terrible disease.

You learn a lot you didn't know about prayer. And you learn that it works.

Dan was 3 then. He's 34 now, and he practices law with his dad. That makes me mighty proud, and mighty thankful.

But that war with cancer came with high medical bills that I couldn't pay on my D. A.'s salary. I had two options:

I could take bankruptcy and avoid paying my bills, or

I could leave the job I loved, start a small law practice and pay those bills a little at the time.

I chose to pay my bills. I paid every cent I ever owed. Maybe not always on time, but I paid every cent.

That turned out to be another of God's little nudges. It led me to a life of working for people who needed the help of a caring lawyer. Some had been wronged, and some just needed to be guided through a very complex and confusing legal system.

It also nudged my family and me into a life of giving back. Especially Dan. He and his mother are the backbone of Camp Rainbow, a summer camp for kids with cancer.

Over the years, I've given of my time and money to help make Camp Rainbow a success. My family has given even more, along with their sweat and their tears, as they helped cancer-stricken kids from all over Mississippi live a little each summer.

Our lives have always centered around children. Before our own kids came along, Mary and I used to have children from the Baptist Children's Village in our home. She's a retired elementary school teacher, and I've volunteered as a school mentor in Crystal Springs.

But too many Mississippi kids slip through the cracks and end up in a courtroom instead of a classroom. All of us should work to reach the children who need our help, before they end up as statistics in the criminal justice system. It's in that spirit of giving back and because of God's little nudges that I'm running for the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The more I see what our highest court is doing, and the more I hear about the incumbent's plans for the future, the more I'm convinced a change should be made. You see, Justice Jim Smith wants to take away your right to elect judges.

According to his logic, we can stop corruption in the courts by stripping the people of their constitutional right to vote and giving that power to a politician.

I say, if we can trust the people to elect our governor, and we can trust the people to elect our Legislature, then we can trust the people to elect our judges.

Now, after he takes away your right to vote, Jim Smith says he would limit judges to no more than two terms.

Forget that when he first ran for the Supreme Court in 1992, he said he would serve only one term.

Forget that in 2000, he changed his mind, and said that his second term definitely would be his last.

And forget that now, eight years later, he's changed his mind again and is seeking his third term.

There's often a difference in what the incumbent says and what the incumbent does.

When Smith became chief justice, he said he wanted to restore public confidence in Mississippi's court system.

But even though attorneys have repeatedly asked the incumbent to recuse himself from hearing cases where the defendants — not the attorneys who were merely practicing before the court — but the actual defendants were his financial backers, Smith has consistently ignored these requests and ruled in his contributors' favor.

When an oil man who donated the maximum to Smith's campaign had a big case in his court, Smith remained on the case and ruled in his favor.

And when a bank that loaned him money to run his 2000 campaign had a case in his court, Smith remained on the case and ruled in their favor.

And the oil man …

He, his wife and his son have each donated the maximum amount to Smith's campaign for this year's race.

That doesn't seem right to me.

And here's something else that doesn't seem right.

Since Jim Smith became chief justice, the Supreme Court has substituted its opinions for the will of a jury nearly 90 percent of the time when an individual was found to have been harmed by a large corporation through its carelessness or wrongdoing.

Now, I'm not talking about frivolous lawsuits.

I'm talking about a woman who went into a hospital with a mild case of pneumonia and came out a brain-damaged paraplegic.

I'm talking about one of approximately 2,000 people who developed cancer that was tied to chemicals leaked from an industrial plant.

I'm talking about a doctor who died of natural causes and his insurance company refused to pay on his life insurance policy.

Now, understand me here. I'm not saying Jim Smith is crooked. On a personal level, I know him to be a good and decent man. I'm just saying under his leadership, something's out of whack with our Supreme Court.

In more than 40 years as a lawyer, my personal resolve has been tested. Thankfully, though, God was there to nudge me in the right direction.

In the early 90's, I was in a meeting at the Ole Miss Law School when Judge Breland Hilburn called me from Jackson.

He ordered me to appear in his courtroom the next morning. When I asked him why, his voice became stern and he told me, "I'm appointing you to defend Byron De La Beckwith."

My heart sank.

A friend drove me home that night, and more than once I made him pull over to the side of the road so I could be sick. The thought of what I had to do deeply disturbed me.

Beckwith was for everything I was against, and against everything I was for. During that trial, my family and I were harassed and threatened by Beckwith's friends.

It would have been easier for my family and better for my career if I had come up with an excuse — come up with a lie — to tell the judge so that he would have appointed somebody else.

But to me, it was more important to do my duty than to take the easy way out. Jim Smith says he wants this race to be about experience, and so do I. And one thing I've learned is that sometimes experience isn't all it appears to be.

You see, I think experience should be judged by its quality … not its quantity.

On Nov. 4, you can vote for the incumbent,

Who regularly rules against individuals and juries,

Who routinely refuses to step down from cases involving his biggest political donors,

Who doesn't trust the people … so he wants to take away their right to vote for their judges,

And who would impose term limits on other judges but not on himself.

Or, you can vote for someone who has been a prosecutor of the guilty and a champion of the underdog,

Who's devoted his life to helping people,

Who knows the importance of working with children before they get in trouble,

Who has risked his career and his family's safety in the name of professional integrity.

And … someone who will be mindful of God's little nudges along the way.

Thank you for your attention, and may God bless you all.

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