Why are the Mississippi Supreme Court candidates running? Here’s what they said

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We asked the Mississippi Supreme Court candidates in contested races why they are running, what they hope to accomplish and if they believe criminal justice reform is needed. Here’s what they said:

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State Supreme Court, District 1, Place 1

Two judges are squaring off for a seat on Mississippi’s high court for District 1, Place 1: incumbent Supreme Court Justice Kenny Griffis and state Court of Appeals Judge Latrice Westbrooks.

Griffis, of Ridgeland, was appointed to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Phil Bryant to fill out the term Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. who left the bench at the end of January 2019.

Griffis is a former longtime Court of Appeals judge from 2003 until his appointment to the Supreme Court and was serving as chief judge of the appellate court at the time of his appointment. He is running as a “constitutional conservative” and has been endorsed by the state Republican Party, although Supreme Court races are nonpartisan. Westbrooks has the support of numerous Democratic state leaders and groups.

Westbrooks, of Lexington, was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2016. She previously served as an assistant district attorney for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties – the first African American woman to serve there as assistant DA – and has been an attorney for 25 years.

Westbrooks served as prosecutor for the city of Durant and as city attorney for Isola. She served as a public defender in Holmes County for nearly 10 years and has served as legal counsel for the Jackson Police Department and as a municipal judge for the city of Lexington.

Westbrooks, if elected, would be the first African American woman on the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The district covers the counties of Bolivar, Claiborne, Copiah, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Jefferson, Kemper, Lauderdale, Leake, Madison, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Rankin, Scott, Sharkey, Sunflower, Warren, Washington, and Yazoo.

Why are you running?

Justice Kenny Griffis

As a Constitutional Conservative, I will uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Mississippi, and I will protect your God given rights declared in the Bill of Rights. I am committed to decide cases based on what the law is, not what I may think it ought to be, or who I would like to win. I believe in equal justice, and open and accessible courts. I will work tirelessly to assure fair and proper results in our courts. My promise is to ensure integrity, honor, dignity and respect in our courts.

Judge Latrice Westbrooks

This is our moment. Our moment to continue the progress our state has made—most notably removing the confederate flag. This is our moment to build on that change and build a Mississippi that we can all be proud to call home.

We as Mississippians must continue to move the needle in the right direction in establishing justice that upholds social progress. I firmly believe justice in a case is not achieved by a judge being neutral between right and wrong, but a judge must diligently investigate and research to identify the right decision and uphold it. That is why I’m running for Supreme Court Justice.

What experience and education qualifies you for this position?

Justice Kenny Griffis

I have had the honor and privilege to serve the people of Mississippi as a Justice on the Supreme Court for 2 years. I served on the Court of Appeals for over 16 years and concluded as its Chief Judge. I graduated in law and accounting and was a CPA. I have been a leader of the judiciary and legal associations. I regularly teach at both of Mississippi’s law schools. As an attorney, I represented thousands of Mississippi families, individuals and businesses that gave me a broad spectrum of legal experience and the ability to consider both sides.

Judge Latrice Westbrooks

I have served as an Appellate Judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals since 2017, and before that, a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Lexington. I represented working people in both criminal and civil matters all over our State. My overall experience in the courtroom is unparalleled in this race.

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and received my law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School. Upon graduation, I moved to Mississippi and set a historical precedent by becoming the first African American woman Assistant District Attorney in the Second Circuit Court District for the State of Mississippi. I am a member of the Mississippi Bar, Magnolia Bar Association, National Bar Association, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Capital Area Bar Association, and the Metro Jackson Black Women Lawyers Association. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and a life member of the NAACP.

What do you hope to accomplish?

Justice Kenny Griffis

I want to ensure justice for all in Mississippi courts. I will continue to work hard to make sure Mississippi law is clear, understandable, predictable and applied consistently. Every person must be held accountable under the law. I will demand lawyers and judges are accountable and follow the highest standards of ethics. I am committed to monitor judges and court dockets. Mississippi should improve transparency with live-streamed court proceedings. I want to reduce the heavy burden of procedural rules that are the reason lawyers are so expensive and so many people cannot afford a lawyer.

Judge Latrice Westbrooks

When I became an attorney nearly 25 years ago, my only hope was that I would be able to fight for the underserved and oppressed. When I became a judge, I knew the citizens of this state depended on me to deliver fair and thoughtful justice on the bench. I’m running for the position of Mississippi Supreme Court justice, District 1, with both of these things at the forefront of my mind. I believe the state Supreme Court is the “court of last resort” and I want to be a voice for the people while conveying the law without respect to person or position.

Do you believe criminal justice reform is needed? If so, what reforms would you support?

Justice Kenny Griffis

The criminal justice system must focus on public safety, personal accountability and rehabilitation. Mississippi criminal justice reform must start with more law enforcement officers, better pay, better training, more personal accountability and the respect they deserve. We must consider the expansion of intervention courts, which combines personal accountability with rehabilitation. Veteran’s courts, mental health courts and reentry courts must be a focus. We must consider the effective use of technology to keep the public safe and lower incarceration costs.

Judge Latrice Westbrooks

I served as a prosecutor for the city of Durant and as city attorney for the town of Isola. For almost 10 years, I served as a public defender in Holmes County. I’m the only person in this race who understands and has been at the nexus of criminal justice reform. As an attorney in private practice, my pro bono practice included volunteering to help many citizens expunge their criminal records throughout Mississippi in cooperation with state and local officials, the Magnolia Bar Association, One Voice, the Mississippi NAACP, and the Mississippi Center for Justice. I’ve devoted my life’s work to reform our criminal justice system. I firmly believe justice in a case is not achieved by a judge being neutral between right and wrong, but a judge must diligently investigate and research to identify the right decision and uphold it.

Supreme Court, District 3, Place 3

Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Josiah Coleman faces a challenge from Chancery Court Judge Percy Lynchard Jr. for the District 3, Place 3 seat on the high court.

Coleman, of Fentress, was elected to the Supreme Court in 2012 and began his term in January 2013. He previously practiced law in Tupelo and Oxford and had served as a law clerk for U.S. Magistrate S. Allan Alexander in Oxford. Coleman’s grandfather, the late former Gov. J.P. Coleman, also served briefly on the Mississippi Supreme Court and on the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Coleman’s father, Thomas, was an original member of the state Court of Appeals.

Lynchard, of Hernando, is serving his seventh term as chancery judge for the district that includes DeSoto, Grenada, Montgomery, Panola, Tate and Yalobusha counties. He is currently senior chancellor for the district, an previously served as DeSoto county prosecutor and as a municipal judge for Hernando. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Supreme Court 20 years ago.

The District 3 seat for which Coleman and Lynchard are vying covers Alcorn, Attala, Benton, Calhoun, Carroll, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Clay, Coahoma, DeSoto, Grenada, Itawamba, Lafayette, Lee, Leflore, Lowndes, Mashall, Monroe, Montgomery, Oktibbeha, Panola, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Quitman, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tippah, Tishomingo, Tunica, Union, Webster, Winston and Yalobusha counties.

Why are you running?

Justice Josiah Coleman

It has been an honor to serve Mississippi as a member of its Supreme Court for the past eight years. I am running for re-election because I know from the standpoint of a practicing attorney, judge, and citizen of the state that the Court’s decisions affect the daily lives and chances for prosperity and success of Mississippians. A fair Court is critical to the preservation of the rule of law, which in turn is critical for freedom and prosperity.

Judge Percy L. Lynchard

Justice, MS Supreme Court, District 3 (Northern)

What experience and education qualifies you for this position?

Justice Josiah Coleman

I have had the honor of holding the position, and therefore playing a role in deciding cases as a member of Mississippi’s highest court, for eight years. Accordingly, I have worked on every type of case that comes before the Court including death penalty and other criminal appeals, workers’ compensation cases, tax cases, civil litigation appeals, city annexations, and family law matters. By way of education, I hold my bachelor’s and primary law degree from Ole Miss. I have also earned a Masters of Law in Judicial Studies from Duke Law School.

Judge Percy L. Lynchard

I practiced law for 14 years in general practice, including banking law, family law, real estate and personal injury law. I served for 10 years as Municipal Judge for the City of Hernando, 4 years as DeSoto County Prosecuting Attorney and City Prosecutor for the City of Hernando, and most importantly, 26 years as Chancellor for the 3rd Chancery District. I hold a BSE in Social Sciences from Delta State University and a Juris Doctor from Ole Miss Law School. I am also a graduate of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.

What do you hope to accomplish?

Justice Josiah Coleman

To continue doing what I have been doing during my first term–provide a reasoned and fair voice on the Court, and to remain committed to the fundamental constitutional principles that define our system of government.

Judge Percy L. Lynchard

I will bring many, many years (26 as a Chancery Judge) of experience in Chancery matters to the Court, something that is extremely lacking on the Court currently. If elected, I will bring an emphasis on such areas and cases.

Do you believe criminal justice reform is needed? If so, what reforms would you support?

Justice Josiah Coleman

As a jurist committed to the separation of powers between the three branches of government and in light of the real possibility that the Court will be called upon to interpret or even determine the constitutionality of any statutes passed to reform the criminal justice system, I do not have any comment.

Judge Percy L. Lynchard

I don’t think it can ever be said that any area such as the criminal process or corrections is perfect, therefore we should always be open to any reforms, suggestions or methods that may be available. I would be open to considering any proposals that may come forward. Such programs such as juvenile and adult drug courts have proven very useful and effective. Accordingly, I would be open to considering any similar programs.