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Phillips, Coleman vie for high court seat

Published 1:00pm Tuesday, October 23, 2012

 Candidates for the Mississippi Supreme Court have to be at least 30 years old and must have practiced law in the state for at least five years. They’re extremely limited in what they can promise while campaigning.

The two attorneys running for a Supreme Court seat in north Mississippi — Richard “Flip” Phillips and Josiah Coleman — say voters really want to know whether they respect the law and can apply it fairly.

They are vying to replace Presiding Justice George C. Carlson Jr. of Batesville, who is retiring after 11 years on the Supreme Court and 19 years as a circuit judge in north Mississippi.

The 65-year-old Carlson will leave the bench when his term ends in January.

Carlson was in private practice 1972-82 before being elected in 1983 as circuit judge in the 17th Judicial District. He was re-elected without opposition four times.

He was appointed to the Supreme Court in November of 2001 by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, then became a presiding justice in 2009.

Carlson has been genial but direct during oral arguments before the court. Peers describe him as conscientious and scholarly, saying that in any situation, Carlson endeavors to express appreciation to all who participate.

Phillips, also of Batesville, grew up with Carlson and says of his friend: “He has been a good judge.”

In the campaign, Phillips has raised $244,356 and Coleman has raised $182,329.

Phillips, 65, touts his 40-year legal career that his included criminal and civil law. He has been a prosecutor and has represented local governments and businesses.

“I have the experience and qualifications to keep the Mississippi Supreme Court a good, solid court,” Phillips told The Associated Press.

His campaign finance reports show broad support from business leaders, attorneys and physicians.

“I have a tremendous respect for the law,” Phillips said. “A judge’s job is to apply the law with integrity. That’s what the people want. What they don’t want are judges who are influenced by outside influences.”

Phillips said from traveling around the 33-county district, he has found that voters want someone who “understands the law … and who has the experience to apply the fairly.”

While Coleman trails in fundraising, he has gotten endorsements from business groups such as BIPEC, Mississippi Manufacturers Association, Mississippi Association of Realtors, Mississippi Medical PAC, BancorpSouth’s PAC and the state Republican Party. He touts those endorsements on his campaign website.

Coleman, 39, lives in Toccopola and practices in Oxford, and he grew up around politics. His father, Thomas Coleman, was one of the first judges on the state Court of Appeals in the mid-1990s; and his grandfather, the late J.P. Coleman, was a governor and federal judge.

“My family taught me that public service is an honor and a duty,” Coleman says in a television spot.

His philosophy, as noted on his website, is that “judges should not act to make public policy as though they were members of the legislative branch — they should fairly interpret our current laws.”

The race between Phillips and Coleman is one of four Mississippi Supreme Court elections on the Nov. 6 ballot. Three are contested and one has sitting Justice Leslie King as the only candidate.

In a Supreme Court race in the south, Justice Mike Randolph faces challenger Talmadge Braddock. Both live in Hattiesburg. In the central one-third of the state, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. is challenged by state Rep. Earle Banks of Jackson.

There is also one Court of Appeals election on the ballot. Judicial candidates run without party labels.

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