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

Judges and lawyers honored during National Pro Bono Week

October 26, 2009

The Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project on Oct. 29 will honor four judges who have worked to increase pro bono service to poor people and 10 Mississippi lawyers who have provided free civil legal service.

The Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project reception is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Mississippi Bar Center at 643 North State Street in Jackson.

National Pro Bono Week is Oct. 25-31.

Judges who will be honored at the reception include Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess H. Dickinson of Gulfport, former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Lloyd Pittman of Ridgeland, Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens of Jackson, and U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III of Jackson.

Pro bono volunteers who will be honored for their work include Jackson attorneys Kyle B. Ainsworth, P. Ryan Beckett, Franklin Harrison Coxwell III, Kenneth Dewayne Farmer, Robert L. Houston, Felicia Perkins, Ben J. Piazza Jr., and Leonard D. Van Slyke Jr.; and Hattiesburg attorneys Charles E. Lawrence Jr. and Maura D. McLaughlin.

Justice Dickinson is a member of the Access to Justice Commission and the court’s liaison to the legal services community. Justice Dickinson has spoken to state, regional and national gatherings addressing civil legal needs of poor people. Justice Dickinson has visited Supreme Courts, Access to Justice commissions and legal services organizations in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Former Chief Justice Pittman in 2002 said the Supreme Court should take the lead in addressing the unmet needs of poor people’s access to the civil justice system. In September 2002 he convened a summit to discuss the problems and seek solutions. He sought funding to assist Legal Services offices and the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and led the court in January 2003 in the adoption of a rule amendment which helped fund civil legal representation for the poor via a fee charged to out of state lawyers who practice in Mississippi. He pushed for legislative enactment of a statute which created the Civil Legal Assistance Fund in March 2003.

Judge Owens has served as co-chair of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission since its inception in June 2006. She has helped poor people get legal help through pro se divorce clinics and guardianship clinics provided by the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. She has been involved in programs to meet the legal needs of poor people since she was a law student. She worked for two years as a law clerk at a Washington, D.C., Legal Services elderly law clinic. She worked as a staff attorney for the former Central Mississippi Legal Services in Jackson.

Before he joined the bench, Judge Jordan conducted training sessions for the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project’s Homeless Legal Clinic at Stewpot. He recruited lawyers to give of their time to help those in need, and conducted orientations of new volunteers.

For more information, contact Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project Executive Director Shirley Williams at or 601- 960-9577.