Attorney: Retiring Judge Patten ‘made us do it right’
The worst place to be in Judge Ed Patten’s courtroom is on the receiving end of his stare.
The chancellor, who is retiring after two decades on the bench, could turn lawyers to jelly just by peeping over his spectacles. There was a lot in that look, attorney Elise Munn said Saturday at Patten’s retirement reception held at the Jimmy Furlow Senior Citizen Center.
“I always say that a one-day trial in chancery court can send a strong person to a dark room with a cold rag, or at least to happy hour,” she said. “Judge Patten has been presiding over these day in and day out for 20 years and that, to me, in and of itself, just to survive that is remarkable. But Judge Patten is not one just to survive. He has gone above and beyond day in and day out.”
Patten is retiring after 41 years of service in the court system, with the past 20 years serving as chancellor of the 15th Chancery District for Copiah and Lincoln counties. Attorney Joseph Durr, of Brookhaven, will take his seat on the bench in January.
A South Carolina native educated in Mississippi, Patten received an associates of arts degree from Pearl River Junior College, a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from University of Mississippi and a juris doctorate from UM as well.
He joined the law firm of Armstrong and Hoffman in Hazlehurst in 1978 and made partner in 1981. He worked there until his election as chancellor.
He was celebrated Saturday by more than 100 people — mostly attorneys, clerks and fellow judges including Chief Justice William Waller Jr., a law school classmate.
“I know that most of y’all are here to help usher me in to this transition in my career but I know good and well that there are some of you here that are here to make sure that I’m really gone,” he said to laughter and applause. “To those of you who came — and I know who you are — to make sure I’m not coming back, all those kind words that sounded like eulogies, trust me, I ain’t dead yet. I’m gonna be hanging around.”
Munn was the first of many who shared anecdotes and fond memories of working with Patten, a man she said usually knew the cases he heard better than the attorneys presenting them. He didn’t phone in or rubber stamp decisions.
“He brought his A-game every single day for 20 years. Every single day,” she said.
He required hoop-jumping.
“He made us do it right, every single time. He made us cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s, every single time. And what a wonderful legacy that is. He just demanded that we do things right,” she said.
Attorney Meridith “M.A.” Bass said Patten loved the law and though he could have been an apothecary, he chose the courts over drugs.
“I think he came into this world, less the robe, ready to be a judge,” Bass said.
During the hourlong reception, Patten was presented resolutions from the House of Representatives and the Senate, the state Supreme Court and the Lincoln and Copiah counties’ Boards of Supervisors. The bar associations of Copiah and Lincoln counties presented Patten with a framed portrait of his honor in his robe and looking quite judicial.
“It’s amazing,” Patten quipped at the unveiling. “Photoshop is good. I don’t look that good.”
When Patten finally stood before the podium, he admitted he’d thought long and hard about what words of wisdom to share. The judge who had presided over 1,600 to 1,800 cases a year for two decades tried to eloquently wrap up his career in a few lines.
“I couldn’t find anything, but simple words kept coming to my mind over and over again. And that is, ‘You have been blessed,’” he said. “I have been blessed by the opportunity to be of service for 20 years and I have touched thousands of lives. It’s humbling when you think about it.”
Patten thanked the people who have crossed his path leaving one for very last, his court administrator Bethany Lewis. She had told the judge not to mention her.
He called Lewis “the biggest blessing” of his chancellorship.
“That woman ran my life for 20 years,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “She protected me from irate litigants and most importantly she loved me and my family like her own.”
Now that retirement is upon him, Patten plans to enjoy three of his passions — cooking, painting and golf.
He’s also looking forward to cashing in 20 years of rain checks for lunch with attorneys he turned down because he was the judge. Lewis has kept a list, he said.
“I’ll be unemployed so you can carry me out to lunch whenever you want to,” he said.