Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi Supreme Court’


Josiah Coleman sworn in to Mississippi Supreme Court

Monday, January 7th, 2013

I enjoyed the swearing in ceremony today as Justices Michael Randolph and Leslie King returned to the Mississippi Supreme Court and Josiah Coleman was sworn in as the newest justice.  His formal investiture will be in Oxford later and the other justices, keeping with tradition, won’t partake in additional investitures.

(Justice Bill Waller, who performed the swearing-in ceremonies, was also reelected last year but was not sworn in during the ceremony today.  I’m sure there is some reason of protocol concerning the Mississippi Chief Justice that explains why.  Considering he is the first Chief Justice in at least twenty years to be reelected to retain his position, there may be a special ceremony for him. Due to the way the seat rotations and election years fall, Waller takes office on his new term in January 2014 and will be sworn in then.)

Here is the Court’s press release on the event.

Thomas Coleman, father of Josiah, served on the Mississippi Court of Appeals.  J.P. Coleman, Josiah’s grandfather, served as Mississippi Governor and Attorney General, served on the Mississippi Supreme Court and in the Mississippi legislature, and served on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Here is a picture of Josiah - now Justice Coleman - with his wife Ashleigh and the administering of the Oath by Chief Justice Bill Waller, Jr.


Mississippi’s points of lights - no longer “Judicial Hellhole”

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

The American Tort Reform Foundation released its latest “Judicial Hellholes” report and Mississippi doesn’t appear on the list of hellholes, on the watch list and is not even noted in the dishonorable mentions.

In fact, the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi legislature both are praised in the “Points of Light” section for actions dealing with the use of no-bid, private contingency-fee lawyers by the Attorney General.

From the report:

Mississippi Supreme Court Reins in Attorney General’s Alliance with Plaintiffs’ Lawyers.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, possibly the most storied user of contingent-fee agreements in the hiring of private-sector personal injury lawyers to enforce state law, will now need to comply with good-government safeguards if he intends to persist in the controversial practice. In a pair of rulings this year issued in a consumer protection lawsuit against Microsoft and a tax collection case against MCI, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general may not enter settlement agreements that require defendants to pay the fees of contingent-fee lawyers directly. Settlements are public funds that must be deposited into the state treasury, the court found. Agreeing with the state’s auditor, the court found that the attorney general may only pay private attorneys fees out of his approved legislative appropriation or contingent fund. The auditor had challenged respective payments of $10 million and $14 million to private lawyers in the two cases. It remains to be seen whether the rulings will provide needed oversight of the attorney generals’ ability to bypass the legislative appropriations process or will simply lead him to take the extra step of depositing settlement money in a state account, then writing a multi-million dollar check to the private lawyers. As noted in the legislative Points of Light, the Mississippi Legislature’s enactment of the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts Act this May also should help safeguard the public and protect the due process rights of defendants by requiring the private lawyers to keep detailed time records, placing reasonable limits on contingent fees, precluding private lawyers from being compensated based on the amount of fines they impose, and establishing an “Outside Counsel Oversight Commission,” comprising the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

…and…

Mississippi

  • Led by Mark Baker, Chairman of the House Judiciary A Committee, with key support from House Speaker Philip Gunn and Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman W. Briggs Hopson III, Mississippi safeguarded state hiring of private lawyers on a contingent-fee basis (H.B. 211). Not surprisingly, current Attorney General Jim Hood fought final passage of the legislation with everything he had, including campaign communications designed to scare citizens and rally them against the much needed good-government legislation.

Jurisdictions that made the “Judicial Hellhole” list include California; West Virginia; Madison County, Illinois; New York City and Albany, New York; and Baltimore, Maryland.  Meanwhile Philadelphia; South Florida; Cook County, Illinois; New Jersey; Nevada; and Louisiana all made the “Watch List.”

You can read the full report here: Judicial Hellholes 2012/2013.


Forget “Fair”? Banks promises “tough” & “not soft” on crime

Monday, October 8th, 2012

At last week’s Stennis-Capitol Press lunch, Representative Earle Banks criticized the campaign of Chief Justice Bill Waller for accepting contributions from political action committees. He suggested such contributions could influence a justice and Banks pledged not to accept any himself. Later, when asked by WAPT’s Scott Simmons, Banks did admit accepting PAC contributions in the past during his legislative campaigns. So I guess either Earle Banks has a guilty conscience for feeling influenced as a legislator by these PAC contributions – or - he knows you can receive contributions and not be influenced (in which his criticism rings hollow).

Candidates who run on the issue of not accepting certain kinds of contributions - even though they are legal - typically fall into one of two categories: 1) Ideologues like the late Senator Paul Wellstone who refused to accept PAC money or 2) Underdogs unlikely to receive the money anyway. (It should be noted that Wellstone was both during his first Senate campaign, and neither during his last campaign.)

As I listened to Banks make the PAC attack, I thought he sounded like a candidate who had not received any PAC money and did not anticipate receiving any PAC money. Of course, that makes attacking your opponent for receiving PAC money pretty easy.

There has been a lot of coverage of the back-and-forth on PACs from the forum. If anything in politics is “sexy” it is campaign finance attacks.

But I’m surprised no one covered the real news from the forum that speaks directly to the issue of the campaign: fairness by a judge.

During his monologue Banks promised, “I have been tough on crime and I am going to tell you about crime. You can never say that I, Earle banks, will be soft on crime. Because I have been a victim of crime. I’ve had two murders in my family. A great uncle and my father, both killed by bullets.”

Banks continued his speech explaining further that because he has been a victim of crime, he would be tough on crime and concluded by telling the reporters and observers that you can trust him to keep his word and keep his promise.

The Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct (here at page 30/31) prohibits a judicial candidate from making “pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office.” [Canon 5A(3)(d)(i)]. The commentary for that section is explicit: “Phrases such as “tough on crime,” “soft on crime,” “pro-business,” “anti-business,” “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” or in any similar characterizations suggesting personal views on issues which may come before the courts, when applied to the candidate or an opponent, may be considered to be prohibited by Section 5A(3)(d) only when used in a context which contain a pledge or promise to decide cases in a particular manner.

I guess a defender of Banks could argue his promise to be tough on crime is not a promise to decide a case tough on crime. But there could be a question of whether a judge who promises to be tough on crime will be fair in reviewing criminal cases. Maybe Banks hopes to be another Chuck Easley who in 2000 defeated a sitting Chief Justice on the same kind of promises. Easley was tough on crime - as I recall, he never sided with the accused in a criminal appeal - even if he was the lone and unpublished dissenting vote.

Now politically, most voters like someone to be “tough on crime.” It is hard to campaign on the promise that you will be “fair on crime.” And a candidate for judge would find it difficult to attack an opponent for being “tough on crime.” Also, whose votes do you lose for being “tough on crime” other than criminals (many of whom can’t or don’t vote)?

But still, I think that when a candidate for the Mississippi Supreme Court said he has been a victim of crime, his family has been victimized by crime, and so he is going to be tough on crime and you can trust him to keep his word on that - which arguably is a pledge that may violate judicial ethics rules – it is noteworthy.

Personally, I think if we’re going to elect judges we should let them campaign like other candidates: free to choose and be listed according to party affiliation; free to speak on any issues they want; free to accept contributions without limits like other state candidates.

But currently, we don’t. In the immortal words of Walter Sobchak, “This is not ‘Nam…there are rules.”

We have rules for judicial candidates and some may argue Banks broke one of them - just a minor one, just the one that says a judge will promise to be fair.


Court’s punt on damages shifts attention to Northern District campaign

Friday, August 24th, 2012

The Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision to decline to answer the U.S. Fifth Circuit on whether Mississippi’s cap on non-economic damages is Constitutional postpones the inevitable: an eventual answer. Justice Mike Randolph wrote on behalf of the majority, “The constitutionality of a statute is not to be addressed ‘abstractly, speculatively, or in the manner of an academic discussion’ but rather in the context of its clear application.”

One day a case with clear application will be decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court. That day will come after this November’s elections in which three seats on the Court are being contested, a fourth - Justice Leslie King - has no opposition.

In the Southern District, Justice Randolph faces Gerald Talmadge Braddock. I wrote back in July:

Challenging Randolph is Gerald Talmadge Braddock, a Vicksburg native practicing law in Hattiesburg where his firm specializes in “serious personal injury, matrimonial law, and criminal defense.” Braddock lists his “area of expertise” as “DUI cases, Mass Tort Litigation with major pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, personal injury claims, criminal defense.” On his web site, Braddock notes he is the youngest lifetime member of the Mississippi Trial Lawyer Association (now called the Mississippi Association for Justice) where he says he serves on the Board of Governors.

Braddock recently opened a Gulf Coast office to focus on litigation regarding the Deep Horizon oil drill disaster. Last month he said on his Twitter account, “If somebody said ‘Free Money In Mississippi’, there would be a riot. Well, I’m saying it, ‘Free Money In Mississippi From the BP Oil Spill’”.

Randolph’s campaign is well funded, supported by all sides of the legal community, well organized and should be successful over Braddock who has struggled to gain financial support or build a grassroots network.

In the Central District, Chief Justice Bill Waller, Jr. faces State Representative Earle Banks. As I wrote last month, the nature of the district makes this race competitive, despite Waller’s fundraising and organization advantages. Banks consistently opposed tort reform in the legislature, there is no indication he would change his mind on the Court.

A victory by Braddock or Banks would create a seismic shift on the Court in favor of trial lawyers. But for those supporting Mississippi’s tort reform including the caps on non-economic damages, the greatest concern should be the open race in the Northern District.

Josiah Coleman, a defense attorney from Oxford, has been endorsed by the Mississippi Association of Realtors, the Mississippi Medical PAC, BIPEC and the Mississippi Manufactures Association. The Mississippi Republican Party endorsed Coleman and this week an e-mail from GOP National Committeeman Henry Barbour and former GOP Chairmen Brad White, Arnie Hedermann and retired Judge Jim Herring (a Fordice appointee formerly on the Court of Appeals) endorsed Coleman and blasted his opponent Flip Phillips:

But while business organizations are rallying around Josiah, his opponent – Flip Phillips – is attempting to conceal his liberal Democrat ties. The truth is Flip Phillips is the former President of the Mississippi Trial Lawyer’s Association and has contributed upwards of $15,000 to Ronnie Musgrove, Jim Hood, Chuck McRae and the Democrat National Committee. He also led the legal effort to overturn the tort reform that helped stop trial lawyers from making Mississippi a legal hellhole.

Phillips is not just a practicing trial lawyer, he is a philosophical advocate for the plaintiffs bar and his election to the Court would not just be a vote but a clever voice of persuasion to move the Court away from the established balance. From my column in June:

Coleman’s opponent is Richard T. “Flip” Phillips of Batesville, a former president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association (now Mississippi Association for Justice). Early in the campaign, Phillips, a well regarded and successful attorney, was being presented to many in the business community as a candidate they could support. But his view of the civil justice system, as discussed in an article published in the Mississippi Law Journal in 2001 titled “Class Actions & Joinder in Mississippi” is exactly the opposite of what state business interests want in a judge.

Phillips wrote, “the fundamental purpose of civil litigation today is shifting from a strictly compensatory purpose to regulatory or punitive purposes.” At a symposium discussing the article, he argued Mississippi became “lawsuit central” in the country not because of the excessively high verdicts, but rather, because the rest of the country was not as enlightened as Mississippi. Rather than reform lawsuit abuse in Mississippi, he seemed to argue the rest of the country should become more like the Magnolia State. In another presentation Phillips argued the elected branches of government have failed to do their jobs and “regulation by litigation” could address policy issues involving tobacco, guns, insurance, health care and product liability.

Because the constitutionality of damage caps could come before the Court, Phillips and Coleman can’t address the issue in the campaign. However, in a 2009 case from DeSoto County, Phillips represented a plaintiff against a construction company who won a $30 million judgment: $13.7 million in noneconomic damages. Because of the damages cap, the trial judge reduced that portion of the verdict to $1 million, leaving $17.2 million for the plaintiff. Phillips appealed arguing the damage cap was unconstitutional and asked the Court to strike it down. The plaintiff and the construction company settled before the Court had an opportunity to decide the issue.

The Court’s decision yesterday not to answer on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s non-economic damage caps should focus attention on the race in the Northern District. While it is unknown how the Court will rule when the question finally and fully comes before it, the perspective of Phillips is clearly known as he has argued before the Court it is unconstitutional.


Who pays for Hood’s pardon costs?

Thursday, March 15th, 2012
In The Madison County Journal this week I write about the decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court (decision here) to uphold the late term pardons issued by then Governor Haley Barbour. In the column I mention one of the political aspects that I find quite entertaining:
Of some amusement coming from the pardon legal challenges was Hood’s revelation that his office was collecting the costs of the legal work and investigations and that Barbour might be held personally responsible for repaying those costs after the pardon issues was settled. Defense attorney Tom Fortner, who represented some of the individuals receiving pardons, dismissed that idea as ridiculous and posed the question of whether if Hood lost, whether he would personally pay the costs. Another defense attorney, Cynthia Stewart, suggested that a cause of action exists to sue the State of Mississippi for monetary damages because of Hood’s actions.

While some individuals were held in prison for nearly two months after they received their valid pardons, I suspect most will be thankful to move on with their lives. Some may seek to punish the state for Hood’s actions; but I hope they will instead exhibit a measure of the grace shown them by Barbour instead.
Here is a little background on that issue from The Clarion Ledger in January - “Pardoned ex-trusty found in Wyoming”:
The attorney general said he plans to quantify how much money this pursuit has cost the state, and how much more the legal challenge will cost.

“All of the expenses that have been incurred - Gov. Barbour is going to have to pay one day,” Hood said.

“We’re going to add it all up,” he said. “I’m going to see if I can hold him responsible for every dime we have to spend.”

Tom Fortner, who said he has not been asked to represent Ozment but does represent the other former trusties, said Hood doesn’t have the power to do that.

“If [Hood] loses, is he going to write the personal check for how much he has cost the people of Mississippi for this mess?” he asked.
Hood did lose. I don’t expect he will write a personal check for the costs. But I’d be interested to see how much Hood spent considering every lawyer I spoke to on the issue was sure he had a losing legal argument.

RR: Gallo’s radio family; The judicial pendulum

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Doing a little catch up this week, so here are my two most recent columns.

Fans of Super Talk Mississippi may find my interview with Paul Gallo interesting. From a cotton farm in Shaw, Mississippi working for his first-generation American parents, to Chicago, to general manager of the Super Talk flagship station, whether discussing his colleagues or audience he always speaks of “family.”

You can read the column online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Gallo’s radio family

Last week I wrote about the Mississippi Supreme Court. Some say it swings like a political pendulum and that in 2008 it had become too friendly to civil defendants and needed to be moved back toward the plaintiff / trial lawyer position. I suggest rather than a pendulum, the Court should be a plum line - flush with statute and the Constitution.

You can read the column online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Judicial pendulum swings


RR: Revenge of the ex-judges

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

“What do two former plaintiff-friendly Supreme Court justices defeated for re-election do in retirement? They proceed to sue one of the wealthiest businessmen in Mississippi.”

That’s the story in my latest column that looks at the latest development in the feud between former Mississippi Supreme Court Justices Oliver Diaz and Chuck McRae, and investigators connected to the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Tom Freeland broke the story at NMissCommentor.com where he runs one of the state’s top blogs on state legal and judicial issues (also food, arts, culture and more): Oliver and Jennifer Diaz (with Chuck McRae as counsel) vs. Leslie Lampton and his cousin Dunn

You can read my column online at the Madison County Journal that reviews the feud: Revenge of the ex-judges


RR: Capitol Press Corps recaps elections

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

At this month’s Capitol Press Corps Stennis luncheon, Clarion Ledger Perspective Editor Sid Salter, Northeast Daily Journal Capitol Correspondent Bobby Harrison and Marty Wiseman from the Stennis Institute were joined by Jackson State University political science professor Mary Coleman to recap the election.

They had interesting perspectives on Bennie Thompson’s role in elections, Jim Kitchens win over Jim Smith on the Supreme Court, the Wicker-Musgrove Senate race, and future races against Democratic Congressman Travis Childers in the First Congressional District.  You can read the full column to hear some of their perspectives: Perry / Capitol press corps recaps elections.  For other interpretations of the luncheon, you can read this piece from Emily Wagster Pettus at the Associated Press (Mississippi not a 2-party state, professor says) or this one from Adam Lynch at the Jackson Free Press (Talking Heads Reflect on Election).

I shared a couple of my own observations on the Jim Smith and Jim Kitchens race in the column as well:

Unfortunately for Smith, it was a Democratic leaning district. John McCain and Roger Wicker both carried Mississippi by strong margins, but both trailed Barack Obama and Ronnie Musgrove in the counties of the central Supreme Court District.

In 2000, Smith lost Hinds County by about 6,000 votes, but netted 4,000 votes from Madison County and carried Rankin County by 17,000 votes to win the district by 11,000 votes.

This year he trailed Kitchens in Hinds County by 37,000 votes, lost Republican Madison County, and only outpaced his top rival in Rankin County by 2,701 votes.

The Kitchens name was also an asset in Rankin and Madison counties where John Kitchens served as a popular district attorney from 1992-2000 and then as a circuit court judge from 2000-2004. Many Rankin and Madison Republicans were puzzled on Nov. 5, when they realized they had voted for Jim Kitchens, not John Kitchens.

The Stennis Luncheon is open to the public each month and costs $12. To get on the mailing list or to find out more information, e-mail Phil Hardwick at phil.hardwick@msstate.edu. You should also check out Phil’s blog.


Two studies look at Mississippi Supreme Court

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

This week Reasonably Right discusses two research studies on the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Mississippi Chapter of the Federalist Society released a white paper titled “On the Side of the Angels?: Updating the Mississippi Supreme Court’s View of the Judicial Role, 2004-2008″ and the MC Law Review released their research from the 2008 Judicial Administration Project.

An excerpt from the column:

The research suggests what any political observer would note: there is a sharp divide in the Court. The civil case split generally allies Chief Justice Jim Smith with Justices Bill Waller, George Carlson, Jess Dickinson and Mike Randolph on one side. On the other side are Justices Oliver Diaz, James Graves, and Chuck Easley. Concerning criminal cases, the division remains the same except Easley joins the majority leaving Graves and Diaz on the minority. (This research does not include Justice Ann Lamar or her predecessor Kay Cobb).

The purpose of the Law Review research is to show what is, but not what should be. It makes a specific note in its civil case research that the data, “does not reflect the court’s dispositions on any particular topic” and “the Law Review is not blind to the political ramifications” of misinterpreting the data.

The Law Review is correct. Evaluating the results of a Court in a vacuum, absent the law and the facts, can be problematic. The judiciary is to rule on the law and the facts as is, not as should be. Fairness cannot be determined solely by quota with equal rulings for the prosecution and defense; plaintiffs and defendants.

The Law Review research does show that even the most opposite of Mississippi Supreme Court justices agree more than they disagree. And, the Federalist Society study shows the majority on the Court continues to practice judicial restraint. It benefits the people, particularly in a state such as Mississippi that elects judges, to have this research available.

You can read the full column this week in the Madison County Journal: Perry/The judicial role


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