Would open Youth Courts in Mississippi help children or hurt them?
Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso pulled off the win Tuesday to become the next chancery judge for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties.
Alfonso unseated longtime incumbent Judge Sanford R. (Sandy) Steckler in a tight race, according to unofficial election results.
“I’m grateful for the support in the three-county area,” Alfonso said. “It was absolutely a team effort. There were many people in the community that recognized a change was needed.”
In the end, less than 600 votes separated the two candidates, according to unofficial returns.
Alfonso garnered 30,349 votes, early results showed, with Steckler inching behind with with 29,894 votes.
In the race for Harrison County court judge, Mike Dickinson pulled off the win with 23,844 votes to Anna Ward Sukmann’s 20,416 votes, according to unofficial returns.
Both Alfonso and Steckler felt voter participation and voters’ personal experience with the candidates would be key in deciding who would be elected to take over the Place 3 bench, where Steckler had served for 16 years, since Jan. 1, 2002.
A former chancellor for 12 years, Alfonso was the first woman elected to preside over Harrison County youth court. She is finishing up her second term now.
Chancery court is a trial court with jurisdiction over various domestic issues, such as child custody hearings, divorces, guardianships, adoptions, mental competency hearings and other matters.
The court also handles land, fraud and contract disputes.
In her new role, Alfonso said she will continue to be a “good listener” who makes decisions with compassion and sensitivity “based on what the law and common sense allow.”
Alfonso is currently serving on four commissions dealing with issues such as domestic abuse and access to justice following an appointment by the state Supreme Court.
She is also the founding member of PACT, Professionals Advocating For Children Together, whose mission is to protect abused and neglected children.
In her new role, Alfonso wants to implement some of the same measures she has brought to youth court, such as bringing in court-appointed special advocates.
She also wants to set up guardianship classes for guardians.