Gov. Phil Bryant has selected Court of Appeals Judge Kenny Griffis of Ridgeland to replace William Waller Jr. on the Mississippi Supreme Court, creating a sort of musical chairs on the state’s top two courts.
Waller, who represents the Central District and is the chief justice on the Supreme Court, has announced that he is retiring Jan. 31.
Under state law, the justice with the longest tenure assumes the post as chief justice – not only presiding over the Supreme Court but also serving as head of the entire state judiciary.
When Waller retires, Southern District Justice Michael Randolph of Hattiesburg will assume the post of chief justice.
The chief judge of the 10 member Court of Appeals is appointed by the Supreme Court chief justice. Waller had appointed Griffis to replace Court of Appeals Chief Judge L. Joseph Lee upon his retirement.
Griffis was scheduled to be sworn as chief judge in January. But at this point, another member of the Court of Appeals will be appointed as chief judge.
Griffis has been on the Court of Appeals since 2003.
“Judge Griffis has served exceptionally on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, and his wealth of experience on the bench will prove very valuable as he moves into his new role,” Bryant said in a statement. “He has an outstanding legal mind and is highly respected among his peers. I have full faith Judge Griffis will be a real asset to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“Additionally, I am thankful for Chief Justice Waller for admirably serving the people of Mississippi for more than 22 years on the state’s highest court, and I wish him well in retirement. The people of Mississippi owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Some have speculated that Waller, age 66, who announced in November that he was retiring, might be planning to run for governor in 2019. A sitting judge cannot run for another office.
When asked by Mississippi Today about the possibility of him running for governor, Waller recently said, “I am not leaning toward that, but I have not ruled it out.”
Waller’s father served as governor in the 1970s.
Griffis will stand for election to the Central District Supreme Court post in November 2020.
To complete the game of judicial musical chairs, Bryant also announced Wednesday he is naming state Rep. Cory Wilson, R-Madison, to fill Griffis’ seat on the Court of Appeals. In the coming weeks, the governor will have to call a special election to fill Wilson’s House seat.