“My mom was Circuit Clerk here for 25 years, and always in the back of my mind, I knew this was where I wanted to be,” says Lafayette County Circuit Clerk Jeff Busby.
“I loved coming up here when she was in office. I’d listen to trials, see how she worked with the people, and the different aspects of this office. In the back of my mind, I always knew.”
The Circuit Clerk since 2020, Busby loves his job, which he refers to as just one part of the larger communal operation.
“Throughout the building, everybody has their own little part,” he says. “I go back to the old high school coach who says, ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team.’ We’re a team, and not just inside this building. We’re a team outside in the community, and the whole community works together to make this office work.”
Deputy Circuit Clerk and Office Manager Chyna Sinervo came to the Circuit Clerk in a different manner. “I was at Ole Miss Football for 18 and a half years. I’ve done sports my entire life. This is real life sports,” she says, laughing. “You’re constantly going. You have to wear a lot of hats, and you have to be able to pivot on a dime.”
Justice and Rehabilitation
Lafayette County’s courthouse hums with activity, split between the civil and criminal sides of the law. For civil disputes such as lawsuits, residents head to the former. The latter handles traffic tickets, DUIs and even high-stakes crimes including armed robbery and murder.
“The criminal side is probably where we see the most trials,” Busby says.
On the second floor, Ben Creekmore, a circuit district attorney representing seven counties, plays a crucial role as he tries cases, negotiates plea bargains and files motions. He sees a deep purpose in the work of the Circuit Clerk.
“Even for the prosecution, we try to accomplish the best result for as many people, including the community, the core law enforcement, as well as families affected by the problems—both victims and families. We’re in the business of trying to solve problems rather than create an office,” Creekmore says.
Judge Gray Tollison agrees. “Working with people and trying to get some redemption in their lives, that’s really enjoyable.”
On Thursdays, Judge Tollison presides over the Drug Court, which works on rehabilitating residents with drug-related cases, rather than incarcerating them. Busby describes a surprisingly familial atmosphere there.
“Judge Tollison and Judge Luther do a great job of talking to defendants. They get updates and get to know them personally, like how their jobs are going…It’s an excellent program that started here a few years ago.”
Behind the Ballots
While the Circuit Clerk’s responsibilities encompass both civil and criminal cases, it is perhaps most known for its role in overseeing elections, ensuring the democratic process by presiding over tasks such as ballot counting, addressing irregularities and releasing results.
Busby recalls the first election under his purview as Circuit Clerk. “It was the 2020 presidential election,” he shares. The night of the election, the Circuit Clerk team spent all night counting the absentee votes. The 20-person team, fueled by food and caffeine, meticulously examined each ballot.
“The process takes a long time, and the more ballots you have, the longer the process takes,” Busby says. “It was a quiet night, and across the whole country, people were talking about voting irregularities, and I just didn’t want that to be here, so we stayed and counted.”
By 5:30 the next morning, the team walked out of the courthouse with the sun coming up and all of the absentee votes counted.
“It was a long night,” Busby adds, laughing. “We laugh about it now, but we didn’t laugh about it that night. Everybody was trying to do the best job they could do.”
Thanks to their dedication, Lafayette County was the first in the state to have unofficial presidential election results. Luckily, the process this year is likely to go faster. The Board of Supervisors has since upgraded the Circuit Clerk’s election equipment, meaning quicker results.
Dedicated to Transparency
Residents who want to get the most up-to-date election results should follow the Lafayette County Circuit Court’s social media, managed by Sinervo.
“As soon as the results come in, we immediately run copy, and she puts them on social media before we ever go upstairs and let the candidates know,” says Busby.
Process transparency is a guiding principle at the Circuit Clerk’s office, with Busby underscoring the importance of dispelling misinformation by opening up the electoral process to residents. “In Lafayette County, we’re open,” he says. “We want you to see what’s going on. We want you to be a part of the process from the beginning to the end.”
Amid the complexity of modern elections, Busby believes that understanding the intricacies of the process builds trust.
“Every vote has to be counted. Every single one,” he says.
The procedure for each ballot is complex, including system checks, verifying ballot envelopes are properly sealed and signed, and the official tally—all with strict security measures in place.
“Working in this office and seeing all of the training that goes into elections, it’s a big process, and I think Lafayette County does a good job. I’m not bragging on myself,” Busby says earnestly. “I’m bragging on this office. We try every chance we can to make the process better.”
This commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed, as Lafayette County was selected as one of only two counties to represent Mississippi in a national data campaign for the upcoming presidential election, which will analyze election information, checking that ballots, affidavit ballots and absentee ballots all match the numbers given.
“The Secretary of State’s office must have felt like we were doing something right to even put our name out there,” Busby says, “so we’re looking forward to it.”
The Circuit Clerk’s office under Jeff Busby has made citizen-centric service its cornerstone.
“First and foremost, our goal is the customers and making them feel seen and heard,” says Sinervo. “You know, the courthouse can be intimidating for a lot of people, but with the people we have in, it’s like a big family atmosphere here. People can be confident that they’re going to get their questions answered.”
When Busby came into office in 2020, he made a decision about the staff he was going to hire. “I want someone that’s going to treat that customer that comes in how they would treat their mom or their dad or their kid. That’s what I want this office to be known as. You know, I can find a robot to push papers, but I want someone who is compassionate towards people and willing to help.”
The Future of the Circuit Clerk
While Busby envisions the duties of the Circuit Clerk remaining relatively consistent, he does foresee the scope of work broadening and deepening in the future.
“I think elections are going to get bigger and more intense,” he says. “I think the court system will grow too. As Lafayette County grows, growth brings crime.”
In the face of these changes, the office of the Circuit Clerk may become more demanding, but what makes it so special to Busby isn’t likely to change.
“What I like about it is that I can visit with the families that walk in, and feel like we can help them,” he says “Even in the court system, though, I can’t tell someone what to do from a legal standpoint, but I can be there for them.”
Sinervo echoes the sentiment. “I’m a fixer,” she says. No matter how little or big a question someone asks her is, she’s committed to helping them. “My mom used to always say, ‘Just pay it forward.’ I believe we can honestly say that we helped someone every day.”