Retired Chancellor Franklin McKenzie died December 29

December 29, 2023

Retired Chancellor Franklin C. McKenzie Jr. of Laurel died on Dec. 29 at Forrest General Hospital. He was 77.

Judge McKenzie

A visitation is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31, at First United Methodist Church in Ellisville. The funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. Dec. 31 at First United Methodist Church. Burial will follow at Lake Park Hills Cemetery in Laurel.

Judge McKenzie will be buried in his judicial robe.

Judge McKenzie served the 19th Chancery Court of Jones and Wayne counties for 25 years. He was first elected to the bench in November 1994 and took office in January 1995. He was reelected six times without opposition. He retired on June 30, 2020, but continued to hear cases occasionally as a senior status judge by appointment of the Supreme Court.

Colleagues and friends described him as an honest and fair jurist who had a meticulous attention to detail and an encyclopedic recall of case law. He was a mentoring judge to young attorneys. And he took great care to provide access to justice for all who appeared in his court, including the pro se litigants who couldn’t afford to hire an attorney.

“It was an honor to practice before him,” said Laurel attorney Terry Caves, the second of three generations of the Caves law practice. “He was a great legal mind. He had one of the best memories of any judge that I’ve ever appeared before,” Caves said. Whether on the winning or the losing side of a case, lawyers had the utmost respect for his decisions, Caves said.

Retiring Chancery Clerk Bart Gavin said that Judge McKenzie usually ruled immediately from the bench. “He took care of business. He would take notes and make a ruling from the bench and go point by point.”

Judge McKenzie ushered in the practice of providing forms for pro se litigants before that became an established practice across the state. “He had a way with people that he could explain it to them,” Gavin said. “He knew how to take care of people. He knew how to help people who were less fortunate and could not afford an attorney.”

Noelle McKinnon of Laurel said, “He made sure that people that could not afford lawyers had access.” McKinnon said his concern for the under-served went back to his private law practice, when McKenzie took cases pro bono or at a reduced fee.

McKinnon worked for him for about 38 years, first as a legal secretary in private practice then as court administrator from the time Judge McKenzie was elected. “In every ruling, in every case throughout his tenure, he was fair and honest,” she said. He applied the law.

He modernized the Chancery Court the same way he had sought out the newest technology in private practice. He brought technology into court operations when many were still using paper dockets and record-keeping. He got computers, e-mail and the internet for his office. He was among the first to use online docketing, McKinnon said.

Judge McKenzie earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law. He was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 1972. He practiced law in Laurel for 22 years before he was elected to the bench. He served as Laurel city attorney for 22 years, and was corporate counsel for South Central Regional Medical Center for 11 years. He served in the Mississippi Army National Guard for 10 years, 1968 to 1978.

Retired Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Charles Pickering hired McKenzie to work in his law firm when McKenzie was fresh out of law school, Pickering recalled. As a recently elected state senator, Pickering had to spend a great deal of time away from his law practice. “I wanted someone who could carry on while I was gone,” he said. “I wanted someone that I could depend on, someone who understood the law....He was a very smart lawyer and I was very pleased to have him join me in the practice of law.”

Attorney Steve Irwin also knew McKenzie from his early law practice. Irwin did legal research for McKenzie while in law school, then was hired by McKenzie when he graduated from law school in 1983. “He was a great mentor to me, teaching me to practice law,” said Irwin, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who practices law in Mandeville, La.

He smoked a pipe. “You knew he was in the building when you smelled his pipe tobacco,” Irwin said.

He was a devoted family man. “He loved his family, his wife and his three kids, then his grandkids,” McKinnon said.