Duncan sworn in as circuit judge

By BRENT MAZE,

Mark Duncan has been appointed the new Eighth District Circuit Court Judge by Gov. Phil Bryant.

Duncan officially took office on June 2 and had a formal swearing in ceremony on Tuesday, June 6. He replaces Judge Vernon Cotton who retired on May 31.

Duncan has served the Eighth District Court as district attorney for 16 years. He won re-election in 2015. He said he is grateful for the opportunity that Bryant has given him to serve the court in a different capacity.

“I appreciate Governor Bryant showing a lot of confidence in me by making this appointment,” Duncan said. “I hope that I can do my best to justify that the trust he has shown in me is well placed.”

Duncan said he received a congratulatory call from Cotten just after the news broke.

“Judge Vernon Cotten served our district well for the past 20 years, always exhibiting the highest standards for honesty, fairness and integrity,” Duncan said. “I am humbled to have the chance to follow in his footsteps and will always strive to meet those same standards.”

Duncan received his Bachelor of Business Administration and his juris doctorate from the University of Mississippi. He and his wife, Joni, have been married 35 years. They have one son, Benjamin Mark “Ben” Duncan. They attend First United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, where Mark serves in several lay leadership roles.

Since starting in the DA’s office in 1988, Duncan has tried more than 800 jury trials. His most notable came in his first term, when he led the prosecution of former Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen for the killing of three civil rights workers. Duncan’s team secured a conviction on three counts of manslaughter that led to a 60-year sentence.

“Mark’s experience as a prosecutor and the record he has established serving the people of the Eighth District make him the perfect fit to replace Judge Cotten,” Bryant said in a statement. “I know that faithful service will continue once he’s on the bench, and I am delighted he has accepted this appointment.”

Duncan said it was never his ultimate goal to become a circuit judge, but when the position came open due to Cotten’s retirement, he prayed about it and talked with his wife about the opportunity. He then applied for the position through the governor’s office.

“I felt comfortable about it either way (if I was appointed or not),” Duncan said. “I really enjoyed being district attorney, but it was an opportunity that I had to consider to serve in another capacity.”

Serving as a judge will be challenge for Duncan, who has served in front of the bench only representing one side instead of watching the case unfold in the courtroom.

“It’s much easier to represent one side of a case than it is to show the neutrality of a judge,” Duncan said. “You cannot favor one side over the other. It will also be a change because I won’t know everything in a case like I do when I prepare to try a case in court. I will be much like the jury watching it unfold in front of me.”

Duncan said he is gratified with the opportunity to service in the district attorney’s office.”

“I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to serve our district in the District Attorney’s office for almost 30 years,” Duncan said. “My primary motivation in joining the District Attorney’s office those many years ago, was a desire to have a positive impact in the community that I love and where I live. I look forward to the chance to be able to continue to have a positive influence in our community as circuit judge and will work my hardest to do my part in giving our citizens a court system they can be proud of.”