January 4, 2024

Circuit Judge Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald IV dies Jan. 1 at age 75

Therese Apel

Judge Buddy McDonald. Photo: Screen grab of Mississippi Coast National Heritage Area Facebook video

Circuit Judge Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald IV of Picayune died on Jan. 1, 2024, at Forrest General Hospital. He was 75.

A funeral Mass will be held at noon on Friday, Jan. 5, at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, 1000 Goodyear Boulevard in Picayune. Visitation is scheduled for Jan. 4 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the church and from 10 a.m. until noon on Jan. 5.

Judge McDonald served as Circuit Judge of the 15th District for eight years, taking the bench in January 2016. He previously served for seven years as district attorney for the 15th District, and 16 years as an assistant district attorney. The district includes Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion and Pearl River counties. He also previously served as Pearl River County prosecuting attorney, city attorney and later municipal judge in Picayune, and municipal prosecutor for the city of Poplarville. He engaged in the private practice of law in Pearl River County 1973-1984 and 2006-2016. He was recognized at the Mississippi Bar Convention in July for 50 years as a member of the Mississippi Bar.

Colleagues and friends remembered Judge McDonald as a brilliant and well-respected jurist and public servant whose death is a devastating loss to the community. Numerous lawyers across south Mississippi recalled him as a mentor whose counsel and advice shaped their lives and legal careers.

His friends knew him as Buddy. He spoke with a soft voice, but his dry sense of humor and gift for storytelling could captivate an audience. He loved history and read widely about a variety of subjects.

Supreme Court Presiding Justice Jim Kitchens of Crystal Spring has known McDonald since the 1970s, when they were prosecutors in adjoining court districts. Justice Kitchens called him  “a man of solid integrity, a dedicated servant of the law, and a reliable servant of the public….As a prosecuting attorney he was fair and he was formidable. As a trial judge he took his oath of office seriously and served with impartiality, patience, and devotion to the rule of law.  His years of honorable work in our state’s courts will be remembered and admired by all who knew him.”

Mississippi Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Virginia C. Carlton, a long-time family friend, said, “He was a great mentor and role model. He was an accomplished prosecutor and had served many years as an Assistant  District Attorney before he was District Attorney in the 15th Judicial District.” Carlton worked for McDonald as an assistant district attorney. “Buddy was always committed to the pursuit of justice. He put others before himself. He cared about the victims and their families. He went the extra mile.”

Manya Creel Bryan of Picayune worked with McDonald as an assistant district attorney and later was his law partner in private practice.  “Buddy was a great mentor. He always had time for younger attorneys. He was my mentor. He always had time to sit down and talk to, especially, the young attorneys. A lot of young attorneys sought his advice.”

District Attorney Hal Kittrell, who worked with McDonald as an assistant district attorney and followed him as District Attorney for the 15th District, said, “I’m where I am because of Buddy. Buddy was a great mentor to me.  He gave me my opportunity to grow into and become a prosecutor, which is the most rewarding opportunity I’ve had.” Their styles were different, but Kittrell said he learned from “one of the best trial attorneys I’ve ever seen. It just came to him naturally. He was one of the best litigators.”

During his time as District Attorney, McDonald was a leader among state prosecutors, serving as president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association and as a member of the Board of Directors of the National District Attorneys Association. He served as an instructor in the National College of District Attorneys career prosecutors course. He served by appointment of the Supreme Court on the Bar Complaint Tribunal, and on the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules of Practice and Procedure. He was a member of the Mississippi State Board of Law Enforcement Standards and Training and served on the Legislative Advisory Committee on Redrafting the Mississippi Criminal Code and the Mississippi Legislative Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice. He was president of the Pearl River County Bar Association, a Commissioner of the Mississippi Bar, a Fellow of the Mississippi Bar Foundation and a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. He was admitted to practice before all state courts in Mississippi, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pearl River County Court Judge Richelle Lumpkin recalled working with McDonald when he was an assistant district attorney and she was County Prosecutor. McDonald would pick up some of the cases on a busy docket to expedite the work. He was a hard worker, but didn’t consider it work. “It was dedication to the profession. It was dedication to the oath that he took. It was dedication to the people that he served, to the district that he served, not only as an assistant district attorney, but as DA and as Circuit Judge.”

As a judge, he was of impeccable integrity and dedication. “When he raised his hand and said that oath, he did everything in his power to abide by that oath.”

“He had a brilliant legal mind,” she said. “He was a well-read and well-rounded individual….Any subject that you wanted to talk about, he knew something about it.”

“He’s been my mentor. He’s been my friend. He’s been my legal profession colleague. He’s been my judicial colleague. He’s been a personal and professional friend,” she said. “The legal community has lost a great mind. He is irreplaceable. You didn’t have to talk to him long before you knew there’s no one else like Buddy McDonald. He was one of a kind.”

Circuit Judge Prentiss G. Harrell of Hattiesburg said, “He was an excellent jurist.” He was extremely knowledgeable of the law and meticulous in his decisions. “He was a pleasure to work with.”

He also was a storyteller who captivated an audience. “He’s probably the best storyteller I’ve ever known,” Judge Harrell said.

Kittrell said, “With Buddy, you never lacked for entertainment. He had a story for everything. He had a thought about everything. He had an opinion, and he was quick to offer it. He was a joy to be around.”

Bryan said, “He found humor in just about everything. To hear him tell stories of his exploits in the courtroom – his stories are legendary.

He was a voracious reader, particularly history and historical novels. “He always had a book in his hand,” Bryan said. “He was the only person I ever knew that would take a book to a football game.” She saw it at the Egg Bowl, no less. McDonald was a Mississippi State graduate. And, she said, “Back when Trivial Pursuit was a big game, Buddy always won. If you played partners, you always wanted Buddy on your side. He knew all of the answers.”

Judge McDonald believed in public service in and outside the legal profession. Judge Carlton recalled that after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Pearl River County, “he stepped up and provided great emergency assistance to his community during the disaster of hurricane Katrina and the recovery efforts.” He had logistics experience from his military service. “When Katrina happened, he worked in the Emergency Operations Center in Pearl River County. He helped manage it, facilitating resources and personnel.”

Lumpkin said that he quietly contributed his time and efforts through civic, church and charitable activities such as assistance for underprivileged children. “There is so much that Buddy did that people don’t know about.”

He was a mentor at the Boys and Girls Club of Picayune and a board member of “Puttin’ on the Pink” Breast Cancer Foundation. He served on the Board of Directors of Pearl River Valley Opportunity; as president and director of the Greater Area Picayune Chamber of Commerce; president, director and Paul Harris Fellow of Picayune Rotary Club; director of Picayune Main Street; and Post Judge Advocate of the Picayune American Legion.

He was a member of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Picayune, where he served on the church Finance Council.

He served in the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard in the Transportation Corps, Quartermaster Corps, and Judge Advocate General Corps. He was honorably discharged with the rank of Captain.

Judge McDonald attended Picayune Public Schools.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Mississippi State University in 1970 and a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1973. He did post-graduate work in criminal justice at the University of Southern Mississippi.

The Pearl River County native is the son of Claiborne and Edith Rapp McDonald and the grandson of Claiborne and Helen Camp McDonald and William and Margaret Lockhart Rapp.

Survivors are his wife, Suzy Stockstill McDonald; children Hugh C. McDonald, Neil Sullivan Angus McDonald, Emily Nowell and Erin Smith; and 13 grandchildren.

McDonald told colleagues and staff that he was proud that the cornerstone of his career was his service to his city, county and state, but his proudest accomplishment was his family.

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