Retired DeSoto County Court Judge Mills Barbee died on April 11
April 13, 2023
Retired DeSoto County Court Judge Mills Barbee died on April 11. He passed away surrounded by loved ones in the same house in Hernando where he was raised, and where he raised his daughters. He was 77. Visitation is scheduled for April 14, 5 to 7 p.m. at the DeSoto County Courthouse. A memorial service will be held on April 15 at 10 a.m. at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn., with a reception to follow.
Judge Barbee was DeSoto County’s first County Court and Youth Court Judge. He was elected when the position was created in 1981. He served for 26 years. “He is the father of the Youth Court in DeSoto County,” said Supreme Court Justice Robert Chamberlin of Hernando.
When DeSoto County completed a new facility for the Youth Court in February 2018, local officials named it in Judge Barbee’s honor: the Mills E. Barbee Juvenile Justice Center. Family members said he was both surprised and humbled.
Judge Barbee left elected office in December 2006. After that, he practiced law and continued to hear cases in other counties by appointment of the Supreme Court as a senior status judge. He retired in 2020.
Those who practiced before him recalled a judge who was gracious with his time and willing to share his knowledge of the law.
DeSoto County Court Judge Allen Couch, who succeeded Judge Barbee, said he learned a lot from his predecessor. “My first case as a young lawyer was in front of Mills. I had no idea what I was doing, and he very gently let me know that without destroying my confidence or embarrassing me. Lesson learned! I will always be grateful for that.” Judge Couch said, “I can only imagine how many lawyers cut their teeth in his court, and if they were paying attention, they became better for it.”
Justice Chamberlin shared similar experiences from Judge Barbee’s courtroom. “I always found him to be fair, of even temperament, and dedicated to trying to apply the rule of law.” In his early career, Chamberlin handled eminent domain cases in County Court, and as City Prosecutor he tried cases appealed from City Court to County Court. “My first jury trials as a lawyer were in front of Judge Barbee. I was a brand new attorney. He nudged you in the right direction as far as mistakes you might be making in the courtroom, but didn’t take the opportunity to embarrass you,” he recalled.
Justice Chamberlin grew up three houses down the street from Judge Barbee in a neighborhood within walking distance of the Courthouse. He recalled Judge Barbee’s reaction when neighborhood kids expressed their ideas for new street names by painting utility poles – what might be considered graffiti. Judge Barbee jokingly told parents that if they wanted to change street names, go to City Hall.
Judge Barbee grew up in Hernando. He was a sixth generation DeSoto Countian. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Mississippi and a Juris Doctor degree from the Jackson School of Law, now Mississippi College School of Law. He served as a law clerk for the Mississippi Supreme Court, then returned to Hernando to practice law. He was a member of the Mississippi Bar for almost 51 years, having been admitted to practice on May 10, 1972.
Mills Eugene Barbee Jr. was born on March 30, 1946, the son of Mills Barbee Sr. and Willie Belle Smith of Hernando. He married Laurie Allen in 1979 at the First Presbyterian Church in Hernando.
Family said that the couple “absolutely adored one another and shared over 43 years of marriage together.” The birth of their daughters, Ashleigh Murdock and Brittany Barbee, “were the highlights of his life.”
His family said in the obituary, “Although a man of few words, Mills was an empathetic man who loved fiercely, lived humbly, and treated each person he met with kindness and acceptance. He loved Ole Miss football, ZZ Top, and black-eyed peas and cornbread.”
Survivors include his wife Laurie; his daughters Ashleigh Murdock (Jeremy) and Brittany Barbee (Taylor Weglicki); three grandchildren, Finnley, Hawkins, and Kitch; and a host of loved ones. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Brenda Ballard.