Desoto County News

Nowak steps away from Hernando municipal court bench 

Photo: Anthony “Tony” Nowak in the Hernando Municipal Courtroom. Nowak has been the city’s Municipal Judge but is stepping down at the end of June. (Bob Bakken/

You might say that retiring Hernando Municipal Judge Anthony “Tony” Nowak can thank Memphis in May for bringing him from his Massachusetts home to the Mid-South, and to DeSoto County, where he has had a successful law career that has included being part of the Smith Phillips law firm and serving at Board Attorney for the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors.  Nowak recently announced he would be stepping down as Municipal Judge on June 30. 

Nowak told DeSoto County News that he had completed the Massachusetts law degree and took that state’s bar exam when he decided to take a break and visit a cousin who lived in Memphis.  

“I came down here to visit him during Memphis in May and spent the month of May just enjoying everything here in Memphis,” Nowak said. “I also met an attorney who offered me a position for the summer.”

It was during that time he met Bobby Chamberlin, then an attorney with the Austin law firm, who told Nowak he could have a job once he passed the Mississippi bar exam. Chamberlin is now part of the Mississippi Supreme Court as associate justice. 

Nowak had already passed the Tennessee bar for his summer job in Memphis and when successful with the Mississippi bar, Nowak was offered a position and began work with the Austin law firm. Nowak would later join Chamberlin to form the Chamberlin-Nowak P.C. general practice in 2001. The practice would merge with the Smith Phillips firm to become Smith, Phillips, Mitchell, Scott & Nowak, LLP in 2006.  

It’s about the same time that Nowak started advising the Board of Supervisors as its Board Attorney.

“I worked with the Austin law firm until 2001,” Nowak explained. “When Bill Austin retired as board attorney, Bobby Chamberlin and I went into practice together and he stepped into the role as board attorney. Bobby was appointed to the circuit court in 2005 and that’s when the Board of Supervisors appointed me to replace him.”

Chamberlin also had a role in Nowak becoming municipal judge in Hernando, as Chamberlin was municipal judge when he was running for state Senate, Nowak said, and could not run for Senate and be on the bench at the same time. 

“He called me one evening and said, ‘Would you be open to being a municipal court judge?’” said Nowak. “I was like, Sure, I guess. I didn’t know anything about it and just asked, what did I need to do? He said, ‘Well, I’ll be in touch shortly if the city decides to make that appointment.’”

A week or so later, Nowak said he got the phone call that he had been appointed Municipal Judge in Hernando.  

But now Nowak and his wife Shelley, who is Vice President of Marketing for Universal Health Systems, are starting to put their retirement plans into motion. 

“My wife and I had been making plans for an early retirement in general, just over years and years planning on early retirement, trying to enjoy life and travel,” Nowak explained. “And just a number of circumstances made this year the right year, hitting 25 years. So we looked at it and it worked. We, in fact, both decided to retire this year.”

A legal career was not the first choice for young Nowak, son of a Massachusetts state trooper who debated law with him on a continuing basis. He earned a college degree in resort management but learned it was tough to break into that career. So, one summer while working in landscaping, one of the landscapers suggested he enter law school, which he did and earned his law degree.  

Many of the cases heard as municipal judge involve traffic tickets, driving under the influence and such, mostly misdemeanors. Municipal Court judges also handle the preliminary hearings on felony charges. If the person is charged with a felony at the local level by a municipal police department, they have a right to a preliminary hearing, and that’d be done by the municipal judge. If the municipal judge were to find that there was enough cause to proceed with felony prosecution, then it would be referred to the district attorney’s office. They are also responsible for issuing search warrants and arrest warrants on a number of things at the felony and misdemeanor level.

Over the years, Nowak has fashioned the Hernando court into one other cities in Mississippi want to emulate.  

“Other cities ask us what we’re doing, so we became a model for how to run a municipal court,” said Mayor Chip Johnson.  

Part of the change was to move the municipal court from City Hall to its current location in the Gale Center building. Case hearings have also grown from just a few hours one afternoon to a full day of case activity, starting at 10 a.m. and continuing until completion. Nowak called the move from City Hall a “significant change.”  

Nowak adds his courtroom is run as one with respect to the process.

“You’ll go to a lot of municipal courts and Justice Courts and it’s not very formal,” Nowak observed. “I always really strive to not only recognize what our role is, but also recognize we’re still a court and it should be at the highest level it can be. I think we’ve achieved that.”

Johnson said the municipal court came to be in its current shape at Nowak’s direction.  

“We had a need for this courtroom and we addressed that, budgeted for it and built it under his supervision,” Johnson said. “I have never had to worry about anything because he was studious about his job. We would just follow his lead because he’s the judge.”    

Nowak said he has never had to bang the gavel, except maybe the first time to bring his court into session, but promises to do it one more time, when he ends his final session on the bench at the end of June. The city’s Board of Aldermen has appointed Adam Bowdre Emerson as Municipal Judge, and Robert Reid Morris III as Municipal Judge Pro-Tempore, both effective June 30.