Lookin’ to the Future Award presented to Chief Justice Smith
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. was honored July 18 for his lifetime work protecting the interests of children. He was presented the Lookin’ to the Future Award during a ceremony in Natchez.
The award was presented during the 2008 Lookin’ to the Future Conference and the Mississippi Conference on Child Welfare, sponsored by Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth and the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The joint conference brings together social workers, counselors, therapists, teachers, foster and adoptive parents, mental health professionals and agency administrators.
Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth Executive Director Sue Cherney said that Chief Justice Smith was selected as the recipient of the annual award in recognition of his many years of work for the benefit of children. “During his whole career, since he was Rankin County Court Judge, he has displayed a concern for the safety and well being of children in Mississippi,” Cherney said.
Cherney noted Chief Justice Smith’s action in declaring the state’s first Adoption Day in November 2004. The event called attention to the need for more adoptive parents and foster parents and helped place more children in permanent homes. Several chancery courts around the state have since observed National Adoption Day each year in November. Mississippi Department of Human Services Executive Director Don Thompson said, “Chief Justice Smith has worked tirelessly for the children and youth of Mississippi and has dedicated himself to their protection. We, at the Mississippi Department of Human Services, were extremely pleased with his selection for the 2008 Lookin’ to the Future award.”
Forrest County Court Judge Michael McPhail, a former recipient of the Lookin’ to the Future Award, made the award presentation. Judge McPhail said, “Chief Justice Smith is a most deserving recipient of this award. He has been a true leader to the judges who labor with these tough issues that surround children, youth, and families. He understands their needs, the needs of those who are helping, and our needs as judges. He never stops thinking about tomorrow when it comes to our children and families.”
Adams County Court Judge John Hudson, another former recipient of the Lookin’ to the Future Award, noted that Chief Justice Smith was instrumental in the 2007 passage of the Youth Court Support Fund, and that he spearheaded the formation of the Task Force for Youth Court Rules of Procedure. The Youth Court Support Fund, authorized by the Legislature in Mississippi Code Section 43-21-801, provides funds for support staff and equipment for Youth Courts. The Task Force for Youth Court Rules of Procedure, created by the Supreme Court in an order signed by Chief Justice Smith on Oct. 22, 2007, oversaw development of a set of proposed uniform rules of procedure. The Task Force’s report and recommendations were submitted to the Mississippi Supreme Court on July 1.
Judge Hudson said, “I don’t know of any other Chief Justice of any other court who has taken on the issues of children and youth that Chief Justice Smith has. Throughout his entire career, all the way back to when he was a county prosecutor and county judge, he has always had the interests of children and youth at heart. He has always maintained the interests of children and youth, particularly those who are at risk, as a high priority.”
Chief Justice Smith joined the Mississippi Supreme Court in January 1993. As the court’s longest serving member, he became Chief Justice on April 1, 2004.
Beginning in 1973 and continuing until 1980, he was city prosecuting attorney for the city of Pearl. He served as Rankin County prosecuting attorney in 1976. He was appointed district attorney for the 20th Circuit Court District of Rankin and Madison counties in 1977. He continued to serve in that position until he was appointed Rankin County Court Judge in 1982. He was a Rankin County Court judge until his election to the Supreme Court.
He served three years in the United States Army and four years in the Army Reserve.
He attended Hinds Junior College, now Hinds Community College. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in history and political science from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1965. He earned his law degree from the Mississippi College School of Law, formerly Jackson School of Law, in 1972 while serving as principal of Pearl Junior High School. He earned a master’s degree in education administration from Mississippi College in 1973.
He was born in Louisville and grew up in Pelahatchie. He lives in Rankin County.