Judges Westbrooks, Owens and Wise honored as Trailblazers

October 25, 2017

Court of Appeals Judge Latrice Westbrooks and Hinds County Chancellors Denise Owens and Patricia Wise were among women lawyers honored as Legal Trailblazers by the Metro Jackson Black Women Lawyers Association on Oct. 19.

Also honored as Trailblazers at the Little Black Dress Soiree were Mississippi College School of Law Interim Dean Patricia Bennett, MCSOL Professor Angela Mae Kupenda, Rep. Debra Gibbs, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall, Clarksdale City Attorney Margarette Meeks and attorneys Amanda Green Alexander, Carshena Bailey and Constance Slaughter-Harvey.

Judges Denise Owens, Latrice Westbrooks and Patricia Wise

Dean Bennett is president-elect of the Mississippi Bar. She will be the first African American woman to lead the state bar. Her term of office will begin in July 2018. Hall is the first woman to head the Department of Corrections. Slaughter-Harvey was the first African-American woman graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Judge Wise said, “There are many black lawyers who were leaders, and we are the beneficiaries of that.” She recalled women such as the late Nausead Stewart and Lynda C. Robinson. “They were trailblazers,” she said.

Judge Wise said there were few job opportunities for early African American women lawyers. She noted that Judge Owens began her legal career at Legal Services. Judge Wise started out in private practice, but also worked one day a week for Legal Services.

Judge Owens and Judge Wise became the first African American female chancellors in the state when they were elected to the Hinds Chancery bench in 1989. Judge Westbrooks became the first African American woman assistant district attorney in the Second Circuit Court District in October 1997. Judge Westbrooks is the third African American woman to serve on the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

Judge Owens was the 2016 recipient of the Susie Blue Buchanan Award presented by the Mississippi Bar’s Women in the Profession Committee. She has been a leader on the bench. She served as secretary, vice-chair and chair of the Conference of Chancery Judges. She served for 10 years as co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission. She has worked with the National Association of Women Judges to present The Color of Justice, an annual program which introduces young female middle school students to careers as lawyers and judges. She serves as pre-law program adviser and adjunct professor at Tougaloo College. She helped organize the Black Law Student Association and annual mock trial competitions for the Magnolia Bar Association. She has taught paralegal technology for many years at Hinds Community College. She served on the Task Force on Gender Fairness and the Gender Fairness Advisory Study Committee.

Judge Owens is a graduate of Tougaloo College and George Washington University Law School. She worked for two years as a law clerk at a Washington, D.C., Legal Services elderly law clinic. Her first job after she was admitted to the Bar in 1979 was as a staff attorney for the former Central Mississippi Legal Services in Jackson.

Judge Wise is former chair of the Commission on Judicial Performance, and served on the Bar Complaint Tribunal. She was the first female president of the Magnolia Bar Association. She served as state coordinator and district director of the National Association of Women Judges. She has taught at numerous seminars, including programs of the Mississippi Judicial College and the National Judicial College. She teaches torts and family law at Hinds Community College and Mississippi College.

Judge Wise is a life member of the NAACP. She is a charter board member of Ole Miss Women's Council for Philanthropy. She was the 1990 recipient of the University of Mississippi NOW award for outstanding leadership. She was the first recipient of the Black Women's Political Action Forum Brown-Hall-Young Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to the legal profession. She served as a board member of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Heart Association, the Middle Mississippi Girl Scout Council, the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Jackson and Youth Leadership Jackson. She is a member of the LeFleur's Bluff Chapter of the Links, Inc. She served as PTA president for Powell Junior High School and Callaway High School and was president of the Callaway Band Booster Club. She served as co-chair of the One to One Jackson Mentoring Partnership Program for youth. She is a former president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

Judge Wise received a Bachelor of Science in special education, a Masters Degree in communicative disorders and her Juris Doctorate, all from the University of Mississippi.

Judge Westbrooks was elected to the Court of Appeals in November 2016 and took office in January 2017. She previously served as Lexington municipal judge, public defender in Holmes County, prosecutor for the city of Durant and as Isola city attorney. She was interim communications director for former Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and legal counsel for the Jackson Police Department.

The Mississippi Women Lawyers Association named her Outstanding Woman Lawyer of 2017. She was the 2016 recipient of the NAACP Delores Orey Lifetime Service Award.

Judge Westbrooks earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., and earned a law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. After working as an assistant district attorney on the Gulf Coast, she joined the Jackson firm of Byrd and Associates in 2000, then opened her own law practice in 2001.

She has worked with the Magnolia Bar Association, One Voice, the NAACP, the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi Youth Justice Project and the ACLU. She served as a Southeast Regional and Central Director of the Magnolia Bar Association. She previously chaired the Criminal Justice Committee for the State Conference of the NAACP. She is a life member of the NAACP, past board member of Leadership Greater Jackson Alumnae, past board member of the I.S. Sanders YMCA, and past board member of the National African American Student Leadership Conference.