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

Supreme Court creates Gender Fairness Advisory Study Committee

March 2, 2006

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. on Thursday, March 2, issued an order which establishes a Gender Fairness Advisory Study Committee.

The committee was appointed to further the work done by the Gender Fairness Task Force, which issued findings and recommendations Nov. 5, 2002.

The Task Force after four years of study concluded that gender bias is not a widespread problem in Mississippi state courts, but that the perception of some vestiges of bias should be addressed by the Supreme Court, the Mississippi Bar and the Mississippi Judicial College.

Mississippi Bar President Joy Lambert Phillips of Gulfport and Workers Compensation Commissioner Lydia M. Quarles of Starkville, chair of the Women in the Profession Committee of the Mississippi Bar, asked the Supreme Court in January to appoint a committee to assist the court in evaluating and implementing the recommendations of the Gender Fairness Task Force. The Supreme Court responded by issuing an order which appoints a 29-member committee of judges and lawyers. Five other ex-officio members include lawyers and bar and court staff.

Former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy of Hattiesburg, who served as honorary chair of the earlier Gender Fairness Task Force, will also serve as honorary chair of the Gender Fairness Advisory Study Committee. The Committee includes Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice Kay B. Cobb; Court of Appeals Judge Donna M. Barnes; Chancellor Jacqueline E. Mask of the 1st Chancery Court; Chancellor Denise Owens of the 5th Chancery Court; Circuit Judge Sharion Aycock of the 1st Circuit Court; Circuit Judge Isadore W. Patrick of the 9th Circuit Court; Hinds County Court Judge Mike Parker; Workers Compensation Commission Administrative Law Judge Tammy G. Harthcock; retired Court of Appeals Judge Mary Libby Payne; law professors Deborah H. Bell, Patricia W. Bennett and Carol C. West; former Mississippi Bar Presidents Richard T. Bennett, Don C. Dornan and William C. “Cham” Trotter III; and attorneys Mark A. Chinn, A. La’Verne Edney, Robert L. Gibbs, Jennifer R. Guckert, Louise Harrell, Rebecca M. Langston, Jennifer S. Lindsey, Felecia Perkins, Willie J. Perkins Sr., Constance Slaughter-Harvey, Susan R. Tsimortos, Vangela M. Wade and Jennifer I. Wilkinson. Ex-officio members include Mississippi Bar President Joy Lambert Phillips; Women in the Profession Committee Chair Commissioner Lydia M. Quarles; Betty Daugherty, Mississippi Bar liaison to the Women in the Profession Committee; Administrative Office of Courts Director Kevin Lackey; and AOC Public Information Officer Beverly Pettigrew Kraft.

Members of the task force are appointed for one year.

Presiding Justice Cobb, of Oxford, said, “I look forward to working with the others appointed to this Committee. While there has been notable improvement in recent years, there remain remnants of gender bias, both perceived and actual, which warrant our continued attention.”

Commissioner Quarles said that in her 27-year career as a lawyer, she has been addressed by her first name in court proceedings while her male counterparts were addresses as “Mr.” She also upon occasion received favorable treatment that she thinks was attributable to the fact that she is female.

“When I’m called ‘Lydia’ and my opponent is called ‘Mr.’ and we are in front of a jury, that impacts a jury,” Commissioner Quarles said.

“I think that one of the things we are going to have to do is call upon the Judicial College to provide training to not just the judges, but also to make them aware that their staff may also engage in this sort of behavior,” Commissioner Quarles said. “Part of it is going to have to be awareness issues.”

Phillips said the earlier Task Force concluded that there didn’t appear to be a widespread problem with gender fairness in the courts, but that there continued to be a perception that unfairness exists.

“Perception becomes reality. What we have to combat is the perception that there is some vestige of bias,” Phillips said.

“While the Task Force report found that there was not widespread bias, it was evident that the development of training materials, policy and guidelines were needed to insure the continued fairness of the courts and to eliminate the limited bias that was found,” Phillips said.