WINONA – Longtime Montgomery County Prosecutor Lane Greenlee was honored last week with a retirement reception organized by his colleagues to celebrate his 40 years of service to the court.
In January 2019, Greenlee announced he would not seek an 11th term as county prosecutor, and officially retired from the position on December 31, 2019.
However, Greenlee did not retire from serving as attorney for the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District, the Town of Kilmichael, and the Town of Vaiden, or from his Winona law practice.
Originally appointed to the position in 1980 by the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, Greenlee ran for the seat in the 1983 election unopposed. In his four decades as county prosecutor, Greenlee has never been opposed in an election.
“I got out of [law] school on January 3 and was hired on January 7, [1980 as county prosecutor],” Greenlee said. “That was my four-year appointed term.”
Greenlee remembered that he was paid $215 per month plus a $100 stipend for a secretary in the early days. He said the creation of the county attorney position came from a need in the county after the Mississippi Legislature stopped requiring the district attorney’s office to handle youth court. It began as an elected position, but when no one qualified for the seat, the county appointed Greenlee.
“When I started, there were five justices of the peace and five constables,” he said. “[The justices] were still having court at their houses.”
He said in the event of a felony, the district attorney would come in and prosecute the case.
“I interned for Ed Snyder, who was the district attorney,” Greenlee said.
He remembered that he and Snyder were the only people working in the district attorney’s office, as Snyder didn’t even employ a legal secretary. The two would travel around the district trying cases.
“When I started [as county prosecutor], the DA’s office had one assistant DA and one investigator, and I would participate in the grand jury [proceedings],” he said.
Greenlee said today, the DA’s office employs several assistants, several court staff members, and two investigators.
“The DA’s office has gotten so big, I don’t have to go to the grand jury anymore, but I still can,” Greenlee said. “It is still on the books [that a county prosecutor can present cases to the grand jury].”
Today, Greenlee said, the county attorney makes around $34,000 per year, the same as a justice court judge and a county supervisor – a long way from the $215 per month with a $100 monthly stipend for a legal secretary.
“That is how much change has occurred in 40 years, just in the money,” Greenlee said.
Greenlee has always had his own law practice in addition to his work as county prosecutor.
“[The position of county prosecutor] has always been fulltime because you are always on duty,” he said. “But timewise, it is part time, and we have a private practice where we made our living.”
Greenlee said although the Mississippi court system has seen many changes over the years, his prosecutorial philosophy remains the same.
“If I prosecute [someone], and they are found not guilty, that is fine with me,” he said. “Hopefully, [if they are guilty] they have learned something from it, and if they do it again, I’ll get them next time.”
In looking back at his years as prosecutor, Greenlee said there is no one case that stands out in his mind.
“The problems are the same, but the faces change,” he said. “I have more memories of youth court. One of the saddest things is that I have seen generations in youth court, where the parents had delinquency problems and their children had delinquency problems. I can think of several families that have done that.”
He said that young people who go through youth court can be deterred from any future problems with the law, but in many cases, that isn’t they will eventually end up in justice court.
“Some kids are in youth court, and you know it is just a matter of time before they are in justice court,” he said. “It is just about aging up.”
One thing he is still passionate about -- something he has fought against in all his years as county prosecutor -- is fixing tickets.
“I don’t do it,” Greenlee said. “[Fixing tickets] is pervasive, and it continues to be pervasive.”
Greenlee said he feels that because some people have connections to law enforcement or court personnel and can get a ticket dismissed, it isn’t fair to those who do not have similar connections. He said fixing tickets is something that is widespread across the state, and it is something that he has fought against it as a prosecutor for years. He said once a ticket made it to him, it would not be dismissed as a favor, but go through the court system like any other citation.
“I have paid my children’s tickets and made them go to driving school,” Greenlee said.
Greenlee does think some things have evolved over the years for the better.
“The police are more efficient, there is better training, better record keeping, more respect for constitutional rights,” he said. “Things have improved for the better, and I have worked with a lot of great people over the years.”
Greenlee said although he is retiring from one of his roles, he is just as busy with his law practice and other responsibilities.
“[Now that I am retired] I can work on my to-do list,” he said. “I’ve still got a fulltime practice. Our bar is shrinking [in Winona]. There are fewer attorneys, and the ones who are still here are busier.”
Last year, Greenlee’s law firm was joined by new attorney, Kelsey Dismukes, who moved to the area with her husband and interned for Greenlee last summer.
“I am very fortunate that Kelsey came to work with me,” Greenlee said.
Greenlee said he has no plans at this time to retire from the law altogether.
“Work is my vocation and my hobby,” he said. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.”
However, he does have more time to spend with his now-retired wife, Dr. Rebecca Hodges, and with his first grandchild on the way, he may spend more time visiting his daughter and son-in-law in Abilene, Texas.
“My first grandchild is on the way,” he said. “Ellen Ruth. She is due in February.”
Greenlee also has two children living in DeSoto County, a daughter teaching choir at Center Hill Elementary School and a son working at the Olive Branch Co-Op.