Dunn's Family Circuit


Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn has held her job for 27 years.

Barbara Dunn wakes up at 4 a.m. every day, makes a cup of coffee, watches the news and then heads to the Hinds County Circuit Clerk's office where she prepares breakfast for her employees. She's been doing this for 27 years, ever since she was first elected circuit clerk.

In the mid-1970s, Dunn's south Jackson neighbor, an election commissioner, asked her to volunteer and file paperwork in the clerk's office. Shortly after, the mother of six started working as a deputy clerk.

Dunn, 74, calls her employees "family." Many have worked in the office for more than 10 years.

The circuit clerk's duties include filing lawsuits and indictments, qualifying juries, issuing marriage licenses and registering citizens to vote. Dunn, a Democrat, faces Vickie Mumford in the primary election. Mumford has openly criticized Dunn because the Mississippi Supreme Court fined Dunn for clerical errors in February 2010. In April 2011, the court issued another sanction against Dunn for paying the fine from a clerk's account instead of writing a personal check. Dunn has since repaid the fine from her private account.

What are your accomplishments as circuit clerk?
When I first came here, we didn't have a computer. We had nothing on computers. We had just begun talking about data processing. No one knew anything about computers in 1984. I brought the office from carbon paper to computerization.

What makes this election cycle different from previous years?
Four years ago Vickie (Mumford) ran against me. Last time, she was on the street corner with a tambourine getting attention. She didn't know much about me then. This time, she has nailed me to the cross. Every time she gets the chance, she just batters me everywhere.

I understand that the Mississippi Supreme Court fined you $5,000 last year for your office's clerical errors.
A clerk failed to send an attorney a copy of an order. That attorney went to the (Mississippi) Supreme Court because we messed up his appeal time--which can really be undone. Because I am the clerk I take that responsibility. The Supreme Court came down with an order to pay a $5,000 fine, and if I could show them that I made improvements, then they said they would lower the fine. Well, I (get paid from the fee account). That fee money is my (discretionary) money until the end of the year. I wrote a check out of that account. But they said no, I couldn't do that.

What is a fee account?
Attorneys come in here and file a lawsuit. That is the fee to pay to file the lawsuit. That's how I get my money and pay my people. They still have not reduced the fine. But sometimes something bad makes something good come out of it. I am now on an emailing system, and the attorneys are jubilant.

So you are emailing attorneys their court orders?

And you maintain that the check did not come from your office's budget?
I don't have a budget. Well, my office's budget is like $50,000 a year. I can't buy materials for $50,000. My fee money is my big money that I pay my people with. ... All that comes out of the fee account.

When will all the filings be avail-able online?
With e-filing, the Administrative Offices of Courts is starting with Chancery Court before they start with us. I talked to (state Supreme Court Justice) Bill Waller and said, "Bill, you are doing Chancery Court before us. This is not going to help me." ... He got up on TV in December and said e-filing was going to happen after the first of the year. We don't have it, yet. Seven or eight years ago, we had an e-filing system with a company, and the Supreme Court turned us down.

What was it like raising six children and working a full-time job?
It was during the time that drugs hit the high schools so hard. I've been through everything with six children. I had two runaways. ... That gave me an out. I needed that rather than being at home. We just went through some terrible times at home. The job was a lifesaver for me.

I'm sure you know where everything is in the office because you have been here so long, huh?
Let me tell you. I was at the counter one day, and there was some afternoon mail that was very little. I opened it and file stamped it. The next day my staff said, "Please don't do that anymore." I think I file stamped stuff that didn't need to be file stamped. ... My office is like a big family. There are lots of big families with 12 or 13 people in them, and that's how I feel.

more candidate interviews here.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment