Brian K. Burns of Union takes the oath of office as circuit judge in the Eighth Judicial District as his wife Robyn looks on in Decatur Friday. Administering the oath is senior Judge Mark Duncan of Philadelphia.
Brian K. Burns of Union takes the oath of office as circuit judge in the Eighth Judicial District as his wife Robyn looks on in Decatur Friday. Administering the oath is senior Judge Mark Duncan of Philadelphia.

The Union attorney appointed to replace Circuit Judge Christopher A. Collins clerked for him and two other judges in the district after law school and tried 11 cases in his three years as an assistant district attorney.

The attorney, Brian K. Burns, 39, was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant late Monday, Dec. 30 after the Democrat had gone to press early for the New Year’s holiday. Burns was sworn in Friday in Decatur. Collins had resigned abruptly last month to open his own law practice with his daughters. 

 

 

“Brian’s experience in the District Attorney’s Office will serve the people of the Eighth District well,” Gov. Bryant said in a release. “I am pleased that he will continue to serve the people with his acceptance of this appointment.”


Burns’ appointment was effective Jan. 2 and will end Dec. 31, 2020. There will be a special election in November 2020 to fill Collins’ unexpired term that runs through 2022.

He is the son of Bob and Beth Burns of Neshoba County and lives in Union with his wife Robyn Watts Burns. 

After graduating with honors from the Mississippi College School of Law in 2011, Burns clerked for the now late Judge Marcus Gordon, the now retired Judge Vernon Cotton, Collins and was hired three years ago by District Attorney Steven Kilgore.

Burns resigned from the DA’s office effective Christmas Day, five days before being appointed by Bryant.

With another term of court having gotten under way on Monday, Kilgore told the Democrat last week that his office was still trying to “clean up the mess” left by Collins’ abrupt departure.

“He (Collins) still hasn’t talked to anyone in this office,” Kilgore said.

Because Burns is a former assistant DA, he will be unable to hear criminal cases initially, even some that were assigned to Collins.

“I know him to be a highly intelligent, sharp lawyer,” Circuit Judge Mark Duncan said swearing Burns in on Friday. “I know him to have all the legal skills that are required of a lawyer to make an outstanding circuit judge.” (See swearing-in story.)

The two had spoken a few weeks ago about their Christian faith.  “He (the Lord) puts us there to use the gifts he has given us to administer to those who are around us,” Duncan said they discussed. “Brian and I talked and he agreed with that assessment. He told me he trusted God to put him wherever he was supposed to be.”

Duncan spoke of their personal relationship as avid golfers. “Golf has a way of exposing a person’s true character,” Duncan said. “As much as legal skills are required to do the job of judge, a person’s character may be even more important.”

Burns’ mother-in-law, Janis Watts, is the longtime court administrator in that office, which he plans to relocate from Philadelphia to Decatur.

Some attorneys have expressed grave concerns about Burns’ lack of trial experience and how quickly the whole appointment went down in almost a veil of secrecy.

“Never practiced law a day that I know of,” said an attorney who has practiced in the district for more than 20 years and who requested anonymity because he may have to appear before the judge. Attorneys are in an “uproar” over the lack of trial experience, the attorney said.

As early as the fall, according to the attorney who spoke to the Democrat and others, Burns was mentioning a vague run for office around the district and apparently had a considerable head start on any other potential replacement securing recommendations from prominent individuals in and around courthouses throughout the district and in Jackson.

Judge Burns did not return phone calls to the Democrat.

Neshoba County is in the Eighth Judicial District which also includes Leake, Newton and Scott counties. 

Debbie Burt Myers, the retired managing editor of the Democrat, contributed to this story.