Our 2021 Class of Women of Influence profiles continue with Sunflower County Court of Justice (South) Judge Gwendolyn Pernell.
What is your position and full title?
Judge of the Sunflower County Court of Justice, Southern District
I have a dual career as I have been currently employed full time at Life Help Mental Health since 2012 where I have held several supervisory positions.
I am currently the Civic Engagement Liaison for Holmes and Sunflower Counties, and Youth and Adult Mapping Coordinator in 12 counties.
What is your field of study?
â¢ 1984 graduated from Gentry High School
â¢ 1988 graduated from MVSU, BS criminal justice
â¢ Graduated in 1989 from the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy
â¢ 1999 MVSU graduate, master’s degree in criminal justice
â¢ 2016 graduated from Capella University, master’s degree in behavioral studies / psychology
â¢ 2016 certified mental health therapist
â¢ 3.5 years. doctoral studies, Walden University, human services
â¢ Continuing legal education, MS Judicial College
â¢ Former municipal judge for Sunflower, Moorhead and Isola. Serve as a special judge when called for Washington, Bolivar, Leflore and Humphreys counties.
What first made you decide to run as a judge in the Sunflower County Court of Justice?
I entered the race for justice because I knew I could make a difference, a difference by promoting public confidence in the judiciary by being fair and impartial.
I want citizens to come to court, tell their story and have confidence that their case will be judged on the basis of facts, fairness and impartiality. At the end of the day, litigants just want the chance to tell their side of the story.
What prompted you to become interested in the legal field?
I chose the legal field because it offers endless career opportunities, new challenges and a life of rewards. Being part of the legal community has given me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences with those who may not understand the law and how the criminal justice system works.
I use the moments of learning and the prudence of the bench to explain the law to litigants (for example the difference between pleading guilty and not guilty, the difference between civil and criminal offenses, explaining that you have the right to a lawyer, and if you cannot afford one, the court will have to appoint you one, you have the right to due process and equal protection of the law).
It is in these moments that you define yourself as a civil servant, by using this platform to educate the litigants who precede you.
Ultimately, it is gratifying to know that you have made a difference simply by educating a litigator in a civil or criminal case.
Who are some of your biggest female influencers? Why?
My biggest influence was my mother, whom I lost to cancer at a very young age. I thank my mother for the strong and confident woman that I am today.
The moral and ethical values ââthat my mother, the late Mattie Scott Walters, instilled in me at a very young age resonate with me today.
Some of these values ââinclude, putting God first and nothing is impossible, family, love, patience, humility, respect, integrity, gratitude, kindness and how to be a woman.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my mentor and reference person, the Honorable Justice Betty L. Sanders, who mentored and encouraged me and is my favorite âjudgeâ.
Justice Sanders embodies the essence of a strong woman, a woman of strength, courage, humility, resilience, prudence, professionalism and compassion.
But of all his endearing qualities, what impresses me the most is his unwavering passion for justice and the judiciary.
I must say that throughout my professional career I have been influenced by countless professional women and for that I am touched.
How have you used your time on the bench to influence women, whether they are delinquents or whether they work under your orders?
As a Presiding Judge, I strive daily to be a positive role model, a positive influence and a passionate leader for everyone, on and off the bench.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a delinquent or not, as I may be the only positive force the delinquent encountered that day. I am a public servant and the face of justice, I cannot choose who I serve. Everyone who enters the courtroom has the right to due process and to the equal protection of the law. I work with a group of professional and great women who share the same interest in the law.
What initiatives would you like to launch for young professional women in Sunflower County?
I am currently working on an initiative to empower young women to achieve their professional and personal goals.
The initiative will offer professional women a platform to express and share their professional experiences, challenges, and provide a roadmap on how to reach and maximize professional potential.
There will be round tables, professional development trainings, the importance of supporting professional women and mentors.