By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – He may be “Guy Three,” but he’s a first in his lawyer family to lead the Mississippi Bar Association.
Guy W. Mitchell III of Tupelo steps into his profession’s top state office July 13 with plans to bring new emphasis to issues and programs he and his colleagues believe in.
Among his priorities, to advocate for:
• Continued full funding for Mississippi’s court system.
• Expanded support to provide legal services for people who cannot afford them.
• Meaningful employment opportunities for graduates of Mississippi’s two law schools.
“My goal is not to re-invent the wheel,” he said just days before he takes on his new responsibilities. “I don’t need to lead a lot of new programs, but I’ve got some that may need tweeking or re-emphasizing.”
He succeeds Lem G. Adams of Brandon.
Mitchell, a fit looking 69, seems eager to take on new challenges in the volunteer post and work with colleagues from throughout the U.S. to find solutions to modern-day problems affecting his profession and the public, which needs it.
One of the marquee names in the Tupelo firm Mitchell McNutt & Sams, he remembers the early days of returning to the town he grew up in to work with his father for the firm his grandfather, the original Guy W. Mitchell, began in 1904.
“I became the seventh lawyer in the firm,” Mitchell recalls of 1972. “Now, we’ve got 36, but we’ve also got offices in Columbus, Corinth and Oxford.”
Despite Mitchell’s family attainment as new Bar president, his firm has had two other presidents – Sandy Sams and Fred Bush.
Mitchell began his career defending insurance companies in lawsuits, although like many other small-town attorneys of the same era, work also included real estate transactions, deeds, wills and contracts.
JAG aide early in career
But before that career could begin, Mitchell was “Mister Commodore” at Vanderbilt University, completed law school at the University of Mississippi and spent four years in the Judge Advocate General Corps, chiefly with Mississippi native Admiral Means Johnston as his key aide in keeping up with military-related legislation before the U.S. Congress.
“It was an exciting time,” he recalls of his work with Johnston.
Mitchell met his future wife, then Susan Sudduth of Vicksburg, at a Mississippi Student Council convention when both were high school seniors. Susan was the organization’s first female president.
Their first date became a steadier thing when they both wound up at Vanderbilt, then they married his first year in law school and she taught school at Oxford High School.
He proudly talks about their two daughters – Katie Tucker of Atlanta, mom of three who works with an executive search firm, and Liza Fruge’ of Oxford, mom of four and part-time legal assistant to U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander.
In 1974, Mitchell’s firm began some of its most high profile work, as attorney for the City of Tupelo and its various agencies and related entities.
While that role changed during one later political administration, Mitchell McNutt & Sams has held the job continuously since 1985 with Guy III as the firm’s point-person through the city’s growth until about four years ago, when he turned over much of the responsibilities to colleague John Hill.
“The part I have loved has been the big part we’ve played in the progress of the City of Tupelo,” he notes, remembering the challenges of helping legally guide new city entities such as Tupelo Airport Authority, Fairpark District, Coliseum Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
He’s especially proud to have been part of the Tupelo Major Thoroughfare program, which receives taxpayer authorized funding to build significant roadway improvements.
“It just proves that if government will be transparent and honest with its programs, people will support it,” he says. “They are still voting for it.”
Voters must re-authorize the thoroughfare program every five years and have done so since its inception in 1991.
Preparing for role
As for his new role with the Mississippi Bar Association, Mitchell was in training as president-elect-designee and then president-elect. He’s attended numerous professional training sessions and stopped in small Mississippi towns for chats with local attorney groups.
He’s already gotten a taste of regional and national issues at conferences with colleagues in other states.
“Our problems aren’t unique,” he said he’s learned.
Mitchell will spend the next year tweeking and expanding those Bar programs he sees ready for attention.
With Bar and business group support two years ago, Mississippi’s system of courts and judges got its first financial lift in nine years. Mitchell says he strongly believes people cannot find justice without good judges and a system of personnel and facilities to support them.
He’s also concerned that deep government funding cuts have put great pressures on legal services to the poor. He said he’ll continue to press for funding, as well as wider resources for such efforts as the Bar’s Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project.
While the state’s two law schools purposefully have reduced their graduate numbers, Mitchell says he continues to be concerned about their job prospects in tough economic times.
“The Bar must figure out how to get new law graduates into meaningful employment,” he says.
He sees merit in discussions about matching up new lawyers with seasoned, near-retirement attorneys who don’t have local replacements in their small towns.
“Communities need lawyers, and small-town practices can provide a real quality life style,” Mitchell notes.
He also says he plans to continue efforts to convince the public that most Mississippi lawyers are doing good things for their communities, despite a few scandals.
His resume’ reflects his own involvement in numerous organizations and charitable work.
Chiefly, he says, he’ll work through his year as president as he did those first years as a young attorney in Tupelo, “You learn it as you go along.”