This November, Mississippians will cast votes in three state Supreme Court races and one Court of Appeals contest. One Supreme Court seat and two Court of Appeals seats are uncontested.

Mississippi Chief Justice Bill Waller of Jackson seeks his third term on the Supreme Court. A former Jackson municipal judge and retired Brigadier General of the Mississippi Army National Guard, Waller won his first election in 1996 with 65.9 percent of the vote and won reelection in 2004 with 74.2 percent. Waller's father was Democratic Governor Bill Waller, Sr. who as district attorney prosecuted Byron De La Beckwith for the assassination of Medgar Evers.

State Representative Earle Banks (D-Jackson) is challenging Waller in hopes of a 2008 repeat which saw the previous chief justice defeated in this same district. Justice Jim Kitchens defeated Jim Smith, buoyed by strong turnout in Democratic leaning counties as a result of Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign. In 2008, the only Republican to carry the Central District was Senator Thad Cochran with 53.1 percent. Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain and Senator Roger Wicker lost the central district with 46.9 and 48.2 percent respectively. Republicans performed better in 2011, but President Obama is up for reelection this year.

Waller's successful effort to pass a judicial payraise through the state legislature - popular with judges and prosecutors but not a great platform for a political campaign - is diffused by Banks affirmative vote for the measure.

The Northern District's Justice George Carlson announced he would not seek reelection. This open seat pits Josiah Dennis Coleman of Toccopola against Richard T. "Flip" Phillips of Batesville. Coleman, son of Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Tom Coleman and grandson of Governor and U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Justice J.P. Coleman, practices defense litigation with the firm of Hickman, Goza & Spragins in Oxford where he is a volunteer firefighter. Phillips is partner in the firm of Smith, Phillips, Mitchell, Scott & Nowak focusing on insurance litigation, personal injury and class action suits.



Expect business interests and trial lawyers to contribute to those
judicial candidates who share their perspectives on those issues.



In the Southern District, Justice Mike Randolph faces a challenge from attorney Talmadge Braddock. Governor Haley Barbour appointed Randolph to the Court in 2004. Randolph, a Vietnam veteran, held the seat in an election that year with 64.5 percent of the vote. Braddock claims to be the youngest lifetime member of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, serving on the Board of Governors as Chairman of the Mass Tort Section. He lists his area of expertise as DUI cases, pharmaceutical mass tort litigation, criminal defense and personal injury.

The most politically charged judicial issue this year concerned pardons issued by Barbour. Victims' families were outraged at the Court's decision; but Waller and Randolph both dissented thus depriving their opponents of that populist wedge issue. The one person on the Court up for reelection who ruled in favor of Barbour's position is Justice Leslie King of Greenville.

King is unopposed in his Central District election. Appointed by Barbour to the Supreme Court, King formerly served on the Court of Appeals. He won election for that seat in 1994, 2000 and 2008 always unopposed. Prior to1994, he served fourteen years in the state legislature. King has won unopposed in Court of Appeals election and now one for the Supreme Court.

Also unopposed in two special elections are Judge Gene Fair on the Court of Appeals and Judge Ronald Doleac for District Ten Chancery Court. Fair served five years as a chancery judge, twenty years on the Mississippi Ethics Commission and during the Vietnam War served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Judge Advocate General Corps. Barbour appointed Fair to the Appeals Court and appointed Doleac to fill Fair's seat on the chancery court.

One special election for the Court of Appeals is contested. Incumbent Ermea "EJ" Russell, appointed by Barbour, previously served as Secretary of the Senate for Republican Lieutenant Governor Eddie Briggs. Governor Kirk Fordice appointed her to the Hinds County Circuit Court in 1998. She lost that election to Tomie Green who took 67.3 percent of the vote.

Ceola James and Latrice Westbrooks are challenging Russell. James served as a chancery judge in the Delta and has run for the Supreme Court three times: 2004 (5.3 percent), 2008 (10 percent) and 2010 (10.5 percent). In 2005, the Mississippi Supreme Court rebuked James for a violation of the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct. Westbrooks practices in Jackson where she hosts the radio program "Ask Latrice The Lawyer" on WMPR 90.1 FM.

In 2008, three of the four incumbents for the Mississippi Supreme Court lost; but in every single race the candidate who raised the most money won. Forget payraises and pardons, the issue that drives judicial politics in Mississippi is civil litigation and tort reform. Expect business interests and trial lawyers to contribute to those candidates who share their perspectives on those issues.







Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.