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

Supreme Court Justice Kay Cobb celebrates retirement

April 28, 2007

Retiring Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice Kay B. Cobb on Friday called her path to the court unintended and unexpected.

Her colleagues commended her dedication, fairness and meticulous attention to detail.

Judges, court staff and friends gathered in the Gartin Justice Building lobby in Jackson on Friday afternoon to celebrate the public service career of the only woman now serving on the state’s highest court. Justice Cobb, 65, of Oxford, is retiring effective May 1. Her term was scheduled to expire in January 2009. Gov. Haley Barbour will appoint someone to serve out the remainder of the term.

Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr., reading from a three-page resolution signed by all the justices, said, “During her eight years of service on the Court, Justice Cobb has dedicated herself to fair and impartial consideration of all matters before the Court. Thorough analysis and meticulous attention to detail are her trademarks....Through her more than 240 studied and well-reasoned opinions, she has afforded justice to the litigants and precedent to the bench and bar.”

He noted her energy and enthusiasm. “Her grace and good humor contributed mightily to the congeniality of the Court.”

Presiding Justice William L. Waller Jr. presented her with an engraved silver tray from her fellow justices. “Sterling, as your character has been and will be,” he said.

She will visit the court. Since she will now have time to bake, she may bring her specialty, coconut cake, on the silver tray.

Presiding Justice Waller also asked if she would hand down something. Former Justice Fred L. Banks Jr. used to be known affectionately at the court as the keeper of the jots and tittles. When he retired in 2001, he passed that title to Justice Cobb. Who would she pick?

Justice Cobb hesitated a moment. “Well,” she said slowly, “there’s a tie....I’ve given some thought to this. I really think that Justice Dickinson and Justice Carlson, who read and worry about the words almost as much as I do, and a close second to that tie is Justice Randolph.”

Justice Cobb said that appellate decisions require “care and attention to the minutia – or the jots and tittles.”

She said, “It’s not only important to the litigants that you get it right, meaning that the outcome is fair and just as the law would require, but also that the opinions that we write are easy enough and simple enough that the consumers, as I have often called them, and that is the bench and bar of the state of Mississippi, don’t have to scratch their heads and try to figure out, ‘What did we really mean here, and what are we trying to say here?’ The more concise and simple that we can keep it, the better. That has always been one of my goals on the court.... I didn’t believe in a lot of legalese.”

Justice Cobb, who pursued law after teaching, said, “When I graduated from law school, I expected to only be a part time chancery practitioner in Oxford, Mississippi....Little did I realize all those years ago that I would be here today. Certainly I never expected it.”

Former Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed Justice Cobb to the Supreme Court on April 1, 1999. She filled the unexpired term of former Justice James L. Roberts Jr., then was elected to a full term in November 2000.

She is the third longest serving justice currently on the court. By seniority, she serves as a presiding justice over three-judge panels of the court to decide cases.

Justice Cobb is the only woman on the Mississippi Supreme Court. She is the second woman to serve. Former Chief Justice Lenore Prather of Columbus was the first. Their terms overlapped.

The court’s resolution noted her career of public service: Director of Prosecutor Programs at the Mississippi Prosecutors College at the University of Mississippi School of Law, senior attorney for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, special assistant attorney general responsible for community mobilization in drug education and prevention efforts, and state Senator for District 9 in Calhoun, Lafayette and Yalobusha counties.

She told judges and staff, “Keep up the good work. Keep the faith. Trust in the Lord. He has, I believe, led me and opened every door that has opened in my life that led me down this very unexpected and very unpredictable path.”

Chief Justice Smith said he has more legal work for her to do even though she is retiring. He asked her to make sure that “the first thing you do on May 2 is to send your letter claiming senior status.”

Senior status judges are retired appellate or trial court judges with at least eight years of service who are assigned by the Supreme Court to preside over cases which local judges are unable to hear.

Justice Cobb said she will hear Chancery Court cases. Her private practice experience as an attorney dealt mostly with chancery cases.

But she is also ready to savor family life with her husband, Larry Cobb, their two daughters and five grandchildren.

She knows how to land an airplane. Now she may have time to learn to fly one.

“I’m going to have time to be a hostess and have a home. I can actually make a coconut cake.”

“Larry tells me the bluebirds are all nesting now, and we may have some baby bluebirds back in Oxford that I haven’t seen yet,” she said.

“Larry and I have been married 44 years, but we’ve been together about half of those years,” she said. “In the first 20-some-odd years of our marriage, he was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and was gone all of the time, and then he was an airline pilot and was gone most of the time, or half of the time. He has been retired for a long time, and I have been the one that has been gone half of the time, and now all of the time to Jackson. So it’s going to be interesting to see how this marriage comes back together after all of these years.”