/Griffis, Westbrooks tout qualifications ahead of Mississippi Supreme Court election

Griffis, Westbrooks tout qualifications ahead of Mississippi Supreme Court election

Kenny Griffis, the incumbent, said that voters should only consider experience and “judicial philosophy” when voting on Nov. 3. On Monday, the Stennis Institute of Government hosted an online forum that featured two appellate court judges. They discussed their experiences and qualifications in what is a highly competitive race for the District 1 seat in central Mississippi’s high court. Nearly 1 million people live in a district that is almost evenly divided according to race, partisanship, and urban/rural populations. Westbrooks stated that only four of the 137 Supreme Court justices in Mississippi have been women over its 200-year history. “I believe we need a court that represents our population.” Despite Mississippi’s 51% female population, only one woman is currently on the Mississippi Supreme Court’s nine-member panel. If elected, Westbrooks would become the first African American woman on the state’s highest court. It currently has one Black justice. Griffis, a constitutional conservative, stated that he believes people should vote on the basis of their qualifications, experience, and judicial philosophy. “That’s what Dr. King stood for… Nine people deciding cases on what the law says… Not race, gender, or who best represents the people in Mississippi.” READ MORE. The November election could see two Black justices join the Supreme Court of Mississippi for the first time in Mississippi history. In 2016, Westbrooks of Lexington was elected to the Mississippi Court of Appeals. As an assistant district attorney in Harrison, Hancock, and Stone counties, Westbrooks was the first African American woman to be elected as assistant DA. Westbrooks was the city attorney for Isola and Durant’s prosecutor. She was a Holmes County public defender for almost 10 years. She also served as legal counsel to the Jackson Police Department, and as a Lexington municipal judge. Griffis, a Ridgeland resident, was appointed by the then-Gov. Phil Bryant was appointed to fill the position of Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. who resigned at the end January 2019. Griffis, who was a Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge from 2003 to his appointment to the Supreme Court, was the chief judge of the appellate courts at the time of his appointment. He was also a certified public accountant. Both candidates have extensive experience in the practice of law. Although the Mississippi Supreme Court races do not have a political component, Griffis has been supported by the Republican Party of Mississippi and Westbrooks has the support and endorsement of many Democratic leaders and groups in the state. READ MORE: We asked Mississippi Supreme Court Candidates why they are running for the Nov. 3 election. Here are their positions on key issues. Griffis stated that the state’s highest court, which oversees the Administrative Office of the Courts should update and modify many court rules and procedures. This includes making sure that judicial elections are “comport with the First Amendment” in terms of judges being allowed to declare their partisan affiliation. Griffis stated, “I get asked all of the time, Are you a Republican? Or Democrat?” Griffis stated that he would advocate for court procedural updates, including greater public access to records and court data, more cameras, livestreaming and livestreaming of proceedings across the state, and “tightening the rules” regarding judicial ethics and campaign contributions for judges. He also said that he would monitor how lower courts keep up with their dockets. Westbrooks stated that she has a wide range of experience as a prosecutor, a lawyer, and a public defender. She is also an experienced litigator, who deals with victims, law enforcement, and the “frontlines” of the state’s legal system. Westbrooks stated, “I will bring a variety of experience that will help real, everyday Mississippians.” Westbrooks stated that the state’s underfunded and spartan public defender system must be improved and should be “on the same level” as the District Attorney system for resources for defendants, such as expert witnesses. Westbrooks stated that there are still disparities in sentencing throughout the state. The central Mississippi District includes the counties of Bolivar and Claiborne.