Judge Carlton pledges to be a guardian of justice
Court of Appeals Judge Virginia Carlton at her investiture ceremony on Monday, Jan. 29, pledged to be a guardian of justice.
“I accept this position on the Court as a guardian of justice with great humility and great honor and I look forward to joining the ranks of the nine others on the Court of Appeals who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice for all,” Judge Carlton said.
Judge Carlton, 42, of Columbia, was elected in November to an eight-year term on the Court of Appeals. The 15-county 4th Court of Appeals District includes parts of Hinds and Jones counties and all of Adams, Amite, Copiah, Covington, Franklin, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Lincoln, Marion, Pike, Simpson, Walthall and Wilkinson counties.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd that packed the Old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol in Jackson, Judge Carlton framed her remarks around the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equality and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“The judiciary stands as the able guardian of these self-evident truths, these fundamental rights. Therefore it is necessary for our judiciary to be able, fair and honest,” Judge Carlton said.
Gov. Haley Barbour said, “As a member of this court, she’ll come at it with a broad view, an open mind, a thoughtful disposition, a caring and very large heart. All those things are indispensable to the members of the judiciary, whether they sit on the trial bench or Court of Appeals or Supreme Court of our state or the federal system.”
Gov. Barbour said, “Nobody is above the law. No king, no governor, no legislator, nobody is above the law. The law is fair and equally applied in our country and our state.” He said, “The law is the foundation, the bedrock place that we can turn, no matter what our station in life – rich or poor, powerful or weak. There is noting that is more important to us than to have judges that operate this system in a way that nobody is above the law.”
Court of Appeals Chief Judge Leslie D. King, who convened the Court for the investiture and administered the ceremonial oath of office to Judge Carlton, said the oath is a promise of equal treatment. “You have only one constituent and that constituent is the law. The moral and legal commitment which we make to that constituency is to administer justice equally without respect to persons or to their station in life,” Chief Judge King said. “The judges of the Court of Appeals welcome Judge Carlton as a valued colleague.”
Phyllis Taylor of New Orleans, chairwoman and CEO of Taylor Energy Corporation, said Judge Carlton is dedicated to public service. Taylor said, “There will be instances when the futures of individuals will rest in her hands. She is up for the challenge. I know she will approach every issue with an open mind, hear the arguments, weigh them in reflection of the law and make a sound determination.”
Taylor, who owns a ranch in Marion County, has known Carlton since she was a teenager. Taylor is president of the Patrick F. Taylor Education Foundation, which promotes access to higher education.
Judge Carlton said it is through education that young people may realize the Constitutional promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Education is such a great way and opportunity to give young people that road to the Constitutional promise and keep them out of trouble and out of court,” Judge Carlton said.
Former District Attorney Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald of Picayune, Carlton’s former boss, said he hired her as an assistant district attorney after observing her hard work and aggressive representation of her clients a public defender. After she bested his office in court, “I did what any good district attorney would do. I hired her.”
Judge Carlton served in the military for more than 16 years before returning to Columbia to practice law. McDonald said, “Virginia decided to put that uniform on and put her life on the line to defend her country. She didn’t have to do that.”
She remains a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, where she serves as a Judge Advocate(JAG) officer. She is Staff Judge Advocate for the 3rd Personnel Command in Jackson. She currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
McDonald said, “When I look at Virginia Carlton, I see a person with a sharp mind, a good heart and the courage to stand up and fight for justice for all people and the things that this country and this state believe in....I think that she feels that the law and the courts are ways to help insure justice for all of our people, and she wants to be a part of that process and do what is necessary ....to make our state and our country a better place.”
McDonald said Carlton is deeply interested in the welfare of children. That interest led her to run for the Legislature, where she spent three years as representative of District 100, which includes Jefferson Davis, Lamar and Marion counties.
Carlton said it was that interest which set her on the road to the court. “If it hadn’t been for my work with children, I wouldn’t be standing before you today,” she said.
Judge Carlton recounted various recent law changes and volunteer efforts intended to promote equal access to justice and improve the lives of people. She noted that the 2005 Legislature created an office of indigent appeals and passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act. She commended the efforts of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, through which lawyers in private practice give their time to represent low income people who could not otherwise afford access to the civil justice system. She praised the creation of drug courts, noting that their efforts have resulted in rehabilitation for more than 1,000 people, savings of more than $23 million in incarceration costs, and the birth of 46 drug-free babies.
Judge Carlton offered those attending the investiture reception live oak seedling. She and her husband and three children had tied a yellow ribbons to each plant.
Judge Carlton said, “I hope everyone will take a live oak seedling to remember the leadership that our state needed in that time and replant our state and help us come back from the devastation (of Hurricane Katrina). They are tied with yellow ribbons so that we can remember our military men and women that are overseas in the war on terrorism fighting the attacks on our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the yellow ribbons hopefully will also remind us of the blood that was shed so our Constitution could be birthed. Freedom was not free and freedom is not free. And because of that, we have to be vigilant in our quest to improve the judiciary and improve the access to justice, and justice for all.”