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Friends, officials pay tribute to longserving judge and court clerk
It is hard to imagine Justice Court without them, but after 34 years of service, Judge L. Joe Beard has decided he will not seek election for another term in office, and after 28 1/2 years on the job, Justice Court Clerk Rita Walley is retiring from her position.
Both Beard and Walley have been important parts of the justice system in Greene County. If you have ever found yourself holding a speeding ticket or had to reach out to the justice system to right a wrong, chances are, one of these two people have been there to help you.
The year was 1984. Ronald Regan was the president and gas was $1.20 a gallon. Disco balls were fading behind the rise of hair bands. And in Greene County, a legacy was beginning.
Joe Beard wanted to fill his father’s shoes and run for Justice Court Judge. Beard had admired his father’s respect for the law and the residents of the county who found themselves on the wrong side of it. In 1984, when he was just old enough to run for the office, Beard won the confidence of the voters and took office. Four years later, he ran again and succeeded a second time. During his second term in office, he resigned amid personal problems, and returned a few years later with determination and motivation.
When he was elected to the office in 1984, the Justice Court was located on the second floor of the courthouse. A few years later, the court moved into the sheriff’s office where it stayed for nearly 10 years before a modular building was placed on Greene Avenue to serve as a temporary home for the court. Eventually, the court was moved into a new building on Main Street.
During his early years in office, Rita Walley joined the Justice Court as the clerk. She was at the courthouse with Beard and moved with him to the sheriff’s office. She was there beside him when they moved into the modular building on Greene Avenue, and she proudly stood next to him when the new Justice Court building was opened in 2010.
Beard and Walley have now served the county side-by-side for three decades. They have worked through and learned the many changes that have taken place through state legislature and they have worked diligently to serve the residents of the county, and even those who are not residents but have found themselves in the county courtroom. They have worked to earn the trust and respect of the citizens of the county and to fairly serve justice to those who have found themselves in the court system.
A retirement reception was held at the Justice Court Friday to celebrate the longtime service of Beard and Walley, and a time to mark the end of an era in our county court. Family, friends and colleagues joined in the celebration, and it was both an emotional and rewarding event for the pair.
Beard earned his law degree while holding office. He said his father had always wanted him to go to law school, and he worked hard to make his father proud. He will continue his private practice, and he will continue to reside over the appointed position of Leakesville’s municipal court. Beard will serve as Justice Court judge until Jan., when the newly elected judge will be sworn in to office. He said his biggest regret is that he did not keep a journal during his years as judge.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with so many good people throughout the years,” Beard said. “Justice Court judge is an important position. You have to make decisions that affect people’s lives.”
Not everyone that appears in Justice Court gets the chance to stand in front of Beard. Many people pay their fines before making it that far, and for those people, Walley has been there to help. She has been the voice of reason to some and a saving grace for others. She has worked hard to treat everyone fairly and with respect, no matter their situation.
“Everybody that comes through those doors has problems,” Walley said. “I try to put myself in the person on the other side of the counter’s shoes and think about how I would want to be treated.”
Walley is well-trained in her position and served many years as president and vice-president of the Mississippi Justice Court Association. She has been an active member in the association and has worked with fellow justice court clerks across the state. She has stayed on top of new legislation and kept up with all the changes that have taken place throughout the years with the increase in technology and the changes of laws.
“I have met so many good friends from the very north part of Mississippi to the coast, and from east to west,” Walley said.
She said she will go home to enjoy her farm and her family. She has a few projects around the house she would like to do, and she said she and her husband may travel a little. For now, she is enjoying her last days with her co-workers that have become more than co-workers throughout the years.
Brenda Moreno, who works alongside Walley, said she will miss her co-worker, a sentiment shared by Walley. Sharing an office for that long will help you get to know someone. Moreno said she is excited for Walley, and sad at the change at the same time.
“After 24 years of working together, it’s going to be different,” Moreno said. “It’s like a family here. I’ve learned from the best.”
Moreno said she and Walley discovered they have many of the same interests and hobbies, and they even have grandchildren close in age.
Moreno said Walley always wants everyone treated right and fairly, and she is glad they had the opportunity to become friends.
“I’m so happy for her,” Moreno said. “She is so deserving.”