Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Supreme Court Justice Fred L. Banks Jr. announces he is stepping down

September 28, 2001

Supreme Court Justice Fred L. Banks Jr. announced Friday that he is stepping down to return to private law practice.

Banks, who has served on the Supreme Court for 11 years, will join the Jackson office of the law firm of Phelps Dunbar LLP. Banks said he expects his retirement to be effective Oct. 31.

Banks, 59, a former legislator and trial judge, said Friday, "I'm certainly grateful to the people who elected me and supported me for public office, which I have held for the last 26 years. I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of the state of Mississippi. It's just come to a point in my life where I think change would be beneficial to me. I've decided to retire and return to private practice with the Phelps Dunbar law firm."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman said, "It's been a pleasure to serve with him. I've served with him his entire tenure on the court. He is an extremely hard worker. He is extremely knowledgeable about the law and he is a diligent researcher. I've often said about him that he is a purist.

"He has chaired the Rules Committee and still does. He was in line to be the next chief justice," Pittman said. "It's going to be a real loss for the Supreme Court."

Banks and Pittman's terms expire at the end of December 2004. Pittman has said he does not plan to seek another term.

The justice with the longest service on the court is chief justice. The chief justice is the head of the court and handles administrative duties of the court in addition to hearing cases.

Banks said, "It would have been a great honor to serve the state as chief justice, but it is not really an honor that I looked forward to. I don't relish the ceremonial and administrative aspects of that job. I prefer to spend my time dealing with the legal issues. The prospect of being chief justice did not play a significant role in my decision."

Banks acknowledged that part of his decision to leave the court was based on economic considerations. "There are opportunities out there that are attractive to people with judicial experience."

Banks said he has received other inquiries and offers to return to private law practice for the past three years.

"It was a difficult decision because I enjoy what I'm doing," Banks said. "I left the Legislature with mixed emotions. I was really enjoying my service in the Legislature when the vacancy occurred on the Circuit bench. It was very much with mixed emotions that I left the Legislature and private practice to become a Circuit Judge almost 17 years ago. It was with mixed emotions that I left the trial bench. The same is true with this court.

"I do enjoy what I'm doing, but I don't want to be here five or six years from now saying 'I wish I'd tried something else,' " Banks said.

In 1975, Banks was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives from Hinds County. He was twice re-elected. During his tenure, he served as Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee and Chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

In February 1985, he was appointed Circuit Judge for the 7th Circuit District, which at that time included Hinds and Yazoo counties. He was twice unopposed for re-election. In January 1991, Governor Ray Mabus appointed Banks to fill an unexpired term on the Mississippi Supreme Court. Banks was elected to serve the remainder of that term in November 1991 and re-elected to serve a full term in November 1996.

Banks has twice followed his former law partner, Reuben Anderson, into judicial positions. Banks took the Circuit judgeship vacated by Anderson when Anderson was appointed to the Supreme Court. When Justice Anderson returned to private practice, Banks was appointed to the position that Anderson had held on the Supreme Court.

Banks will rejoin Anderson, who is a partner in the Phelps Dunbar firm.

"We were law partners from 1968 to 1977 and we will be law partners again," Banks said. "Reuben and I have been lifelong friends. We have been friends since the fifth grade," Banks said. "The prospect of joining him once again is a pleasant prospect."

Banks said he will not participate in any matters before the court involving the Phelps Dunbar law firm. He withdrew from participation in any matter involving the Phelps Dunbar firm two weeks ago.

"That's when I agreed that I would accept an offer if one was made," Banks said.

Banks grew up in Jackson. After graduating from Lanier High School in 1960, he attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his undergraduate degree in Business Administration and graduated cum laude from law school, second in his class, in 1968.

After admission to the Mississippi Bar, he began private practice in Jackson, initially serving with other lawyers in his office as local counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. That office evolved into the firm of Anderson, Banks, Nichols and Leventhal.

Banks participated in school desegregation, housing and employment discrimination, voting rights and other civil rights cases as well as general law practice. He was town attorney for the Town of Fayette from 1970-75, consulting attorney to the Mississippi Association of Educators and general counsel to the Mississippi State Conference of NAACP Branches.

Banks was president of the Jackson Branch of the NAACP from1971 through 1982 and presently serves as a member of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP. He chairs the legal committee and sits on the executive committee.

He serves on the Board of Visitors at Mississippi College School of Law, where he is an adjunct professor of law, and on the board of directors of the Greater Jackson Community Foundation. He served as a member of the Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions. He is a Fellow in the Mississippi Bar Foundation. He is a member of the American Law Institute, a member and former president of American Inns of Court, Charles Clark Inn, and of the Mississippi, Hinds County, Magnolia, National, American, and District of Columbia bar associations.

Banks was co-director of the Mississippi Carter-Mondale presidential campaign in 1976. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1976 and 1980. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the National Advisory Committee for the Education of Disadvantaged Children as well as the Democratic National Committee Commission on Presidential Elections. He has served on numerous state and local commissions and task forces including the State Advisory Committee to the Commission on Civil Rights, the State Advisory Commission on Substance Abuse, the Governor's Task Force on Drunk Driving, and the Governor's Constitutional Reform Commission.

For more information, call court Public Information Officer Beverly Pettigrew Kraft at 601-354-7452.