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Justice Pierce leaving Mississippi Supreme Court in February

JACKSON, Miss (AP) - Gov. Phil Bryant will get to make two temporary appointments to the eight-person Mississippi Supreme Court after Justice Randy Pierce on Monday became the second member to step down to take another job.

Pierce, 51, of Leakesville, said he will resign from the state's top court Feb. 1 to become director of the Mississippi Judicial College, which is based at the University of Mississippi law school in Oxford. In that role, he will oversee training and continuing legal education for judges and staff for the state court system.

The announcement came a week after Justice David Chandler left the Supreme Court when Bryant appointed him to oversee the state's foster care system.

Terms started by Pierce and Chandler expire in January 2017.

"The governor does not have a timetable for filling the open Supreme Court positions, but he will be thorough and make appointments as soon as possible," Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler, son of the former justice, said Monday.

David Chandler was elected from the northern third of the state, and Pierce was elected from the southern third. People chosen as temporary successors could gain an advantage of name recognition if they choose to run in 2016. Judicial candidates run without party labels in Mississippi.

Pierce was first elected to the Supreme Court in 2008 and had already announced that he wouldn't seek re-election next year. The certified public accountant and attorney entered politics in 1999, when he was elected as a Democrat to the Mississippi House of Representatives.

In February 2005, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Pierce to fill a vacant chancery judgeship in Jackson, George and Greene counties. Pierce at the time was seen as a rising star in Mississippi politics: He was chairman of the House Education Committee and was also positioning himself to run for lieutenant governor in 2007, a job that would be open because Republican Amy Tuck was limited to two terms.

Pierce was elected to the chancery judgeship in November 2006. Two years later, he unseated Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz.

Pierce has written two novels. "Pain Unforgiven," published in 2011, is about a lawyer who returns to the hometown he had vowed to leave forever, and "Magnolia Mud," published in 2014, is a fictional tale about mudslinging in a Mississippi governor's race.

In a news release from the Supreme Court on Monday, Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. praised Pierce.

"He has great insight and understanding of the laws the court is called upon to interpret," Waller said. "He has been a great liaison for the court in its efforts to ensure adequate resources for the operation of the judicial branch. He has also provided outstanding leadership in efforts to improve the health, safety and well-being of children."

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