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Yalobusha Historical Society Minutes – Aug. 21, 2008

Kay Cobb

 The Yalobusha Historical Society held its regular monthly meeting August 21 in its headquarters in Coffeeville. There were 35 members and guests present, representing six counties.
Vice-president John Moorman welcomed everyone, especially the speaker, Kay Cobb, and other visitors. (Our President, Mike Worsham, is on vacation out West) Among the visitors were: Molly Randall, Jane Jolly, Audrey Hardaway, Susan Few Adams, Smith Murphey IV and Annette Morris. We are always happy to have visitors, and welcome any and everyone to our meetings.

John mentioned membership dues, $15.00 per family per year, payable to YHS, Box 258 , Coffeeville , MS 38922 . New members joining now will be credited through 2008. A paid membership makes a good Christmas or birthday gift. One of the air conditioning units at the building was replaced the day before the meeting and seems to be working well.

John also passed out fliers about a new book “Perseverance – A Biography of Captain Richard Eggleston Wilbourn,” by Walter Earl Waddell of Columbia , SC. I believe Mike has done research with Mr. Waddell in the past. For more information, call 662-237-6010 in Carrolton , MS.

The book tells of the exploits of Capt. Wilbourn, a comrade of Gen. Stonewall Jackson in the Civil War.  John also announced the death of the wife of one of our most faithful members, Gilbert Sullivan. The Society sends condolences to all of the Sullivan family.

Program Chairman Opal Wright stated that the Sept. 18 program will be brought by Mr. Baron Caulfield of Water Valley, Executive Director of the Water Valley Housing Authority. (for 21 years)   His program has an intriguing title: “That OTHER Grandfather.”  He will speak of several of his Leland and Caulfied grandfathers, then focus on another one, a Culbertson, who only spent ONE night in Coffeeville, Dec. 5, 1862, the night after the Battle of Coffeeville.  Everyone is invited to come out and hear about his mysterious character.

Opal introduced the day’s speaker, former State Senator and former Justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, Kay Cobb, of Oxford . Kay grew up in Cleveland , MS, a farm girl, like a lot of us. She graduated from Miss. State College for Women, now Miss. University  for Women (M.U.W.) in 1963, and from Ole Miss Law School in 1977. She practiced law until her election as State Senator in 1992. She was appointed to the State Supreme Court in 1999, and was then elected to that office in 2000. She retired in 2007 and now enjoys retirement with her husband, Larry, who had a long career as a military pilot and then as a commercial pilot. They have two daughters and seven grandchildren. Kay is very active in her church and community, and she and Larry make frequent flights to visit their children and grands, alternating between Knoxville and Pensacola .         

Kay’s program covered many aspects of the State Supreme Court, from the way the justices are chosen, to the manner in which cases are heard, and how they are resolved.

There are nine justices on the Court, the same as on the U. S. Supreme Court. They are elected to the office, whereas the U. S.  Justices are appointed by the sitting President, and are appointed for life. The State justices, three from each of the three districts in the State, serve eight years, but their terms are staggered.  Thus every two years at least one, and not more than four, of the justices will have to campaign for re-election.  In November 2008 four of the justices will be running: two in the Northern District; one in the Central District; and one in the Southern District.

Kay explained about the duties of the Chief Justice, who is top in seniority, and the two Presiding Justices, next in seniority. When the Court is in session, the three presiding justices each lead panels consisting of two of the associate justices, as the other six members are called.  They rotate the associates, so that in the course of the year, all have served with each of the presiding justices. Each justice issues his or her personal opinion, and the majority opinion prevails.

Many of the points Kay covered were in response to questions from the audience, and one of the questions was “Do all cases brought to the State Supreme Court come from the intermediate Appeals Court ?” Kay stated that all appeals (whether from chancery or circuit courts) initially are filed with the Supreme Court for review and assignment, with the majority of the cases being assigned to the Court of Appeals, but not all.   Some matters, such as death penalty cases, challenges to the Constitution, election issues, etc.  are handled exclusively by the Supreme Court.

As stated previously, the ranking of the justices is on the seniority system. When a justice dies, or retires, the next one in seniority moves up, and the person who is appointed, or elected, becomes an associate.

Kay spoke of the reputation the State received when there were so many class action suits being filed throughout the State, by non-residents as well as Mississippians,  and the huge verdicts a lot of the plaintiffs received. Our state became known as the home of “Jackpot Justice,” sad to say, but changes in court rules and tort reform have changed all that.

Kay spoke of the election process, and the huge amount of campaign funds raised by some candidates, much of the money coming from lawyers and huge corporations. Kay Said that she didn’t spend a lot of money in her bid for election to the Court, and had no idea who the donors were. (That’s the way it should be with all the contenders.)

She noted several problems with the current method (popular elections) for choosing appellate judges, including large donations from special interest groups; large geographical districts making it difficult to ever know the candidates personally; reduced dignity of judges, etc.  She recommends an appointment process, similar to that in many other states, in which a large, broad-based committee screens many candidates, and then recommends several highly qualified candidates to the Governor, who then appoints the person he/she believes to be the best from that group.  

After that person serves for a specific number of years (which varies from state to state) he or she will face a merit/retention vote (yes or no) by the citizens.  If the appointed judge has done a good job and a majority of the voters vote yes (to retain the person as judge) then he or she will serve another term (often 8-12 years) before there is another “yes or no” vote.   This helps keep the three divisions of our government – Executive, Judicial and Legislative – totally separate, while at the same time protecting against the problems inherent in purely popular judicial elections.  

Kay’s presentation was very well received by the audience, and we thank you Kay, for taking the time to share your knowledge of this important element of our government. We hope you will visit us again.

  Following the meeting, a delightful period of fellowship was enjoyed, with members and visitors mixing and mingling, and visiting with Kay.    

ATTENDING: (other than those previously mentioned) Frances Stewart, Opal Wright, Helen Jones, Betty Miller, John Moorman, Tom Moorman, Joe Moorman, Margaret Jean Ross, Joy Herron, Betty B. Pechak, Marge Kilgore, Jean M. Scobey, Alice G. Landreth, Dick and Jackie Weibley, Harold and Lena Jones, Dave Hovey, Ray Cox, James and Polly Simpson, James Person, Sidney Bolick, Jimmie and Francine Pinnix, Sarah Williams, Carl Vick and Maxine Johnson.

Betty R. Miller


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