Person of the Week: Tobey Bartee

By BRITTNEY MANGUM,

Growing up in Louisiana during the Civil Rights Era helped inspire Judge Tobey Bartee to grow into the man he is today.

“There was a picture of Dr. King in every home because he had just been assassinated,” recalled Tobey. “There was something about the look in his eyes that always inspired me.”

That inspiration grew and developed even more when he moved to Mississippi.

“Growing up as a kid, I was always interested in law and justice,” explained Tobey. “I wanted to become a lawyer, but then I got married at a young age, and that never happened.”

Although he didn’t become a lawyer, Tobey never gave up on his passion with the law.

“After my boys got in Junior High, I decided to run for office,” said Tobey. “I was elected in 1995 and took office as a Justice Court Judge.”

His journey as judge has not always been easy. Bartee has been criticized for different decisions he’s made on the stand, but he has always made sure that he followed whatever the law said. In fact, he said that former Quitman mayor Sam Box gave him the best advice that has kept him grounded and rooted all these years:

“Plow a straight furrow, meaning stay straight down the middle like a farmer would do when plowing. Let the dirt fall to the side where it may, but keep straight. Don’t lean to the left or the right.”

No matter what the case is, Judge Bartee always tries to abide by the advice. As judge, he has to consider the poor and rich and be impartial in every case that is presented.

“In order for me to maintain the integrity of my oath, I have to remain impartial,” said Bartee. “I’ve been attacked by social media and public opinion, but I can’t allow that to affect my judicial decision making.”

Although Tobey doesn’t have a degree in law, he is very well educated on the laws and judicial system.

“We are required to go to conferences each year to learn more about the different laws,” explained Tobey. “I have traveled all over the country to be educated on the judicial system. One of the conferences I got the most out of was in Philadelphia, PA, when I was sitting at the table with professors from Harvard and other universities discussing civility and the lack thereof in the United States.”

Bartee is beginning his seventh term in office as judge.

“I’m just so thankful to all the citizens for the support they have shown me over the last 24 years,” stated Bartee.

Over the past 24 years in office, he has accumulated a number of awards on both the local and national levels. In 2014, he received the Citizen of the Year Award from the Clarke County Chamber of Commerce. He also became president of the National Judges Association for the 2014 term and remained president through 2016. He was then awarded the National Judges Association Past President Award. In 2018, he was given the Kenneth L. MacEachen Memorial Award as Outstanding Non-Attorney Judge of the United States. Even recently in November of 2019, Bartee was given the Charles Young Sr. Political Service Award for Excellence. Despite his accomplishments, Tobey remains humble about his position.

“It’s very humbling to get those awards,” said Bartee.

Out of everything he does in the courtroom, Judge Bartee has two favorite things about his job: knowing that every individual who leaves the courtroom feeling as though the court listened and conducting marriages.

Although he loves his job as Justice Court Judge, Tobey has a life outside of the courtroom. For 25 years, he was married to his first wife and had two sons with her; however, one month after they renewed their vows, she passed away due to breast cancer.

“I met my current wife, Lynnita, on e-Harmony,” stated Tobey. “She had two daughters, and then in 2009 we had another daughter.”

Unfortunately, he and his wife had to endure more loss. In 2013, his middle daughter moved over and finished her senior year at Quitman High School and worked for Nick Kramer. On her first day of college, she became sick and went to the hospital for what they thought was something simple. Within 24 hours, she passed away.

Despite the tremendous loss he has suffered over the years, Tobey has constantly pushed forward with a desire to help the people of Clarke County, even helping outside of the courtroom

“I became a volunteer firefighter and an EMR because want to help Clarke County,” explained Tobey. “I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.”

No matter what time a call comes in, he is willing to get up to help. He has even had to deliver a baby on a call before.

His help extends in the church, as well. He has been the superintendent teaching in the church for 27-28 years and has been a deacon in the church since 1989.

With his dedication to justice and helping people, Judge Bartee has a little advice for the citizens in Clarke County:

“Be honest to yourself. Learn the true characteristics of Christ because we’re called to love. Even though it hurts sometimes to love, we still have to push through it and love anyways.”

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