By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
The gloves are off for north Mississippi’s open seat on the state Supreme Court with less than a week to go.
Until recently, the race was fairly tame between Flip Phillips of Batesville and Josiah Coleman of Toccopola.
“This campaign is about whether we have a Supreme Court justice who wants to serve Mississippi and can be trusted to be fair and to respect the law,” Coleman told the Daily Journal, “or a Supreme Court justice who has a record of wanting the legal system to change society and viewing the days of jackpot justice as progressive.”
Phillips insists that “out-of-state special interest groups are trying to buy our Mississippi Supreme Court” by supporting Coleman.
The two face off without party labels on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Until about a week ago, each campaign was going about its business with speeches to local civic clubs and hand-shaking at festivals.
But the heat went up last week when Virginia-based nonprofit Law Enforcement Alliance of America Inc. bought more than $360,000 worth of TV ads to bash Phillips, saying his election will ensure “a huge payday for greedy trial lawyers.”
Jackson-based Business and Industry Political Education Committee (BIPEC) already was on the air characterizing Phillips as a “shark” swimming in murky waters.
Phillips campaign consultant Morgan Baldwin of Tupelo says that before LEAA and the other PACs are done, they will have spent $600,000 to try to derail Phillips.
Phillips’ TV ads attack 39-year-old Coleman, saying he’s never tried a single case.
Coleman’s supporters say Phillips will make legal rulings to favor his lawyer friends.
Phillips’ supporters say Coleman, heavily indebted to numerous political action committees, will make legal rulings to favor their special interests.
Both men accuse the other’s campaign of lying:
• Phillips: “The assertion that I would be an activist is completely false.”
• Coleman: “Flip’s assertion that I have tried ‘not one’ case is false and he knows it.”
Phillips draws on his 40-year legal career to reveal himself.
“I have practiced law with integrity, representing businesses and individuals both as defendants and plaintiffs,” he says. “Judges should make decisions based strictly on the law.”
Coleman insists the Phillips campaign never asked him about “the true nature of my experience as an attorney.”
“I have personally tried cases and been part of teams of attorneys that have tried cases in every level of Mississippi’s courts,” he says, pointing to his 13-year career focused primarily on appeal writing.
The race matters, says Mississippi College School of Law professor Matt Steffey, because its outcome will affect the judicial philosophy of the state’s highest appeals court for the next eight years, which is one term for a justice.
Phillips says at age 65, he’s ready to give back to a state where he’s been able to succeed and raise his family.
Coleman, who turns 40 just before Nov. 6, could bring a long-term viewpoint to the court, Steffey says, if he wins across several terms.