Chief Justice Edwin Lloyd Pittman retired from the Mississippi Supreme Court on March 31, 2004. The former legislator, State Treasurer, Secretary of State and Attorney General also served 30 years in the Mississippi National Guard and retired as a brigadier general. When he left the Court, he provided newly inaugurated Governor Haley Barbour the opportunity for his first judicial appointment. Barbour chose Hattiesburg attorney Michael K. Randolph.

At his investiture, Randolph brought the Bible, the Mississippi Constitution and the Code of Judicial Conduct and said those three documents would guide his service. He also referenced the motto of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry (Big Red One), in which he served in Vietnam, "No mission is too difficult, no sacrifice is too great." Randolph also served as a reserve officer in the U.S. Navy's Judge Advocate Generals Corps. In addition to his legal career (both corporate defense as well as plaintiff litigation), Randolph served on the Board of Directors for William Carey College and President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the National Coal Council.

The term which Randolph was completing for Pittman expired the year he was appointed. He ran in the regularly scheduled election and defeated Court of Appeals Judge Joe Lee of Ellisville with 64.5 percent of the vote to claim a full eight-year term. Randolph serves in the 27-county Southern District that roughly encompasses the Gulf Coast up to nearly Interstate 20, from the Alabama line across the state to Louisiana keeping south of Rankin, Copiah and Jefferson counties.

BIPEC (Business and Industry Political Education Committee) considers Randolph a "fair and balanced" judge on a scale of "balanced - swing - plaintiff." A 2008 Mississippi College Law Review study of cases identifies Randolph on a side of the Court that (in my words, not the study) is usually considered the conservative side.

Randolph has been a voice of judicial restraint on the Court.

Writing for the majority to uphold Barbour's choice of the special election date to fill the unexpired term of Senator Trent Lott against the arguments of Attorney General Jim Hood, Randolph determined the legislative mandate was ambiguous and silent so the Court must determine the Governor's construction of the statute is permissible. He did not use the judiciary to trump the executive.

In Price v Clark, a decision by the Court that weakened the pre-suit notification tort reform created by the legislature, Randolph wrote in his dissent, "The appropriate constitutional body, the Legislature, determined their adoption was in the best interests of the citizens of this State...The effect of today's decision is judicial nullification of those pre-suit notice requirements...[this] ruling grants litigants license to spurn legislative directives" and will "reward those who intentionally fail to follow statutorily-prescribed conduct and likely will lead to further erosion of the legislation." He argued against using the judiciary to trump what he believed a Constitutional act by the legislature.

But Randolph can be a judicial firebrand as well. When the Court majority refused to overturn Barbour's end-of-term pardons, Randolph wrote a scathing dissent calling the decision, "a stunning victory for some lawless convicted felons, and an immeasurable loss for the law-abiding citizens of our State."

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'".

The next campaign finance reports are due from both candidates on July 10. Neither candidate reported raising or spending any money through the end of May.

Four seats of the nine-person Mississippi Supreme Court are up for election this November, three of them are contested and two of those feature incumbents. All three contested seats - Randolph in the Southern District, Chief Justice Bill Waller in the Central District, and the open seat of George Carlson (candidates in that race are Josiah Coleman and Flip Phillips) - currently are filled with justices which lean conservative; but each is being sought by a candidate which leans toward the trial lawyer interests (Braddock, Phillips and Earle Banks). A shift of a third of the Court could radically change the direction of the Mississippi judiciary and move the state back toward the days before tort reform.



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