Phillips touts experience across legal career

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

Flip Phillips says north Mississippi’s next state Supreme Court justice must be experienced enough with the past to know the future will be very different.
“It’s a different world than 20 years ago,” the Batesville attorney recently told a luncheon meeting of Fulton’s Rotary Club.
After a 40-year legal career, Phillips, 65, says he’s seeking his first elected office because he’s worried about what kind of Mississippi his six grandchildren will grow up in.
Good decisions by the state’s highest court will ensure their future is a better one, he says. He also says it’s his time to “give back” to the state.
His name will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot with Oxford attorney Josiah Coleman for the seat being vacated by retiring Justice George Carlson.
Richard “Flip” Phillips, 65, is a first-generation lawyer from a hard-working Panola County farm family.
He and his wife of 44 years, Vera Sue, live a comfortable life in the place they grew up. He is senior partner in the 12-lawyer firm Smith Phillips Mitchell Scott and Nowak LLP. They have three adult children and six grandchildren.
Phillips began his work life young at Dunlap amp& Kyle tire company. Founder Robert Dunlap hired him as the company’s lawyer in 1972 after Phillips finished law school at the University of Mississippi.
“I look at honesty and integrity – Flip has that,” Dunlap said. “He would do a great job. He’s well qualified.”
Phillips got his first taste of politics in 1963 when he was 15 and became the campaign driver for then-state Rep. Cliff Finch as the future governor first sought to become district attorney.
Phillips, who’s active with his local economic development organization, says the state’s economic future needs a sound Supreme Court – “an unbiased, intelligent, down-the-middle, tell it like it is court.”
He quotes international businessman Dunlap when he tells his audience that a country can get along if it doesn’t trust its president or its Congress, “but it’s got to trust its legal system.”
“We must have a court system of experienced people, free from outside influence, who understand the law and understand that a judge’s job is to follow the law,” Phillips said.
Phillips’ career spans legal issues from plaintiffs’ cases to corporate defense, as well as strong involvement with community economic development. Early in his career, he literally wrote the book on product liability from his work with businesses and individuals on contract and insurance cases. Today, his clients are a Who’s Who of north Mississippi businesses and governments.
He’s practiced in state and federal courts from coast to coast. He’s been a prosecutor and municipal judge, as well as lead counsel before the Mississippi Supreme Court in at least 15 cases and numerous cases before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He’s also written Law Journal articles, one book and authored numerous papers.
“My years of experience handling all types of legal matters for Mississippians gives me the perspective needed to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court,” Phillips notes.
He said he decided to seek to succeed his longtime friend Carlson only after several other qualified attorneys decided not to run.
Former president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, Phillips meets head-on the opposition’s criticism that he’s a “trial lawyer,” a bad phrase in business circles.
“My career has been broad. I’ve been successful representing plaintiffs and defense,” he said. “Maybe you don’t hear about the defense cases I’ve handled because they often come to a quiet end – my clients fix whatever the problem is without a lot of fanfare.”
He says his support from Dunlap’s company has allowed him to be selective about taking clients.
“I don’t handle frivolous cases. Never have,” he said.
Phillips’ campaign finance reports show broad support from business leaders, attorneys and physicians. As of the latest report, he leads his opponent in fundraising.
But as the Nov. 6 election draws closer, he said he’s not sure what to expect from the well-organized political action committees backing Coleman.
“Misleading advertising and campaigns don’t have a place in a judicial race,” he observed.
He points to the “trial lawyer” name calling and outright falsehoods, one that he helped put a Batesville coffeeshop out of business.
Its corporate office shut it down, he said, and he represented the shopping center’s owner seeking to recoup the rent and back ad valorem taxes.
He also says he’s being accused of pairing up with now-convicted Oxford litigator Richard “Dickie” Scruggs to advise young attorneys how to sue insurance companies.
“We were on a Bar panel discussion with two others some years ago and I took the opposite side from him,” Phillips said. “That story out there is a complete disregard for the truth.”
Tactics like that, he said, destroy trust in the court system.
“I’m 65 years old, and if I win, it will be for one eight-year term,” Phillips noted. “I’m not going to be obligated to anybody.”

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