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Ceremony and portrait unveiling honor Chief Judge Lee’s legacy of service

November 16, 2018

Mississippi Court of Appeals Chief Judge L. Joseph Lee was recognized Thursday, Nov. 15, for more than seven years of exemplary leadership of the court and 20 years of public service.

Retired Chancellor W. O. “Chet” Dillard

Chief Judge Lee presented his portrait to the court during a retirement ceremony in the courtroom in Jackson. He will retired Dec. 31.

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who appointed Judge Lee as Chief Judge on March 3, 2011, said that he “has provided exemplary service. He conducted himself and led the court in a dignified manner that engendered respect and confidence in the people.”

Patricia Bennett, Dean of Mississippi College School of Law and President of the Mississippi Bar, said, “Judge Lee has given significant and exemplary leadership and service in his role as Chief Judge of the Mississippi Court of Appeals.”

Speaking to a crowd that packed the Court of Appeals courtroom and required overflow seating outside, Bennett said Judge Lee personifies professionalism. She thanked him for giving generously of his time and resources in support of legal education. He mentors and encourages law students and lawyers.

Former MCSOL Dean Jim Rosenblatt noted that Chief Judge Lee authored 1,095 opinions in 20 years of work on the court. During that time, the 10-member Court of Appeals issued 10,798 opinions. “This speaks to his energy, productivity and dedication to the work of the court,” Rosenblatt said. “Your work has contributed in a mighty way to upholding one of the three branches of Mississippi government, the judiciary.”

Days before the ceremony, Rosenblatt queried Judge Lee’s colleagues, law clerks, judicial assistants and former staff. They described him as a man of integrity and honor whose patience and respect for others set him apart. He is hard working, fair and impartial. No detail escapes his attention. He writes opinions that are clear and concise, and are supported by common sense. He is a consensus builder who shows great respect for the court and its judges. He is a man of great faith who is compassionate and considerate. He is also known his good sense of humor, for feeding court staff and colleagues with tomato sandwiches in the summer, and for his collection of antique cars. The reception served mini tomato sandwiches.

Chief Judge Lee said, “I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for being here today. If my voice trembles a little, I have been humbled and I am certainly very appreciative.”

He presided over an oral argument for the last time on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Judges Virginia Carlton and Jack Wilson presented him with an engraved gavel to mark the occasion. That experience “sort of got me teary-eyed,” Judge Lee said on Thursday. “I’ve had fun with everyone I’ve worked with, my law clerks and judicial assistants especially. I feel very close to them.”

Judge Carlton and Presiding Judge T. Kenneth Griffis on Thursday presented him with a court proclamation and a plaque memorializing his public service. Judge Carlton said, “We sincerely appreciate your judicial leadership, your mentorship, your friendship and all the work you have done for the fair and effective administration of justice – justice for all. You have inspired each and every one of us to be better judges and to be a better court. We will miss you.”

Judge Donna Barnes noted that none of the judges have served on the court without Judge Lee. “While the institution of the Court of Appeals will continue...the court as we know it will be forever changed,” she said. She presented him with a group portrait of the court.

Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Tyree Irving and Judge Lee were sworn in for the first time on the same day nearly 20 years ago. Judge Irving also will retire in December. Judge Irving said, “ I guess you will remember Jan. 4, 1999. You and I started this journey together. I appreciate your leadership. I appreciate your kindness, your gentle spirit.” He recalled that Lee often told him, “I love you like a brother.” However, he said, “You never invited me to drive an antique car, but it’s ok.”

Judge Lee’s wife Renee and his son, attorney Judson Morgan Lee, unveiled Judge Lee’s portrait, which will be displayed in the courtroom. Judson Lee noted that he watched his father take the oath of office at the Capitol eight months before the son began law school. Now entering his seventeenth year of law practice, the younger Lee said, “How do you capture fully in words not just the fact and the details of the day to day, but the sense of commitment, the fidelity to service, or the impact of your wisdom....It’s hard to define someone’s legacy. I can’t think of any way better to express my father’s commitment, his faithful service and the inspiration of his wisdom than to see his portrait appear on the walls of this courtroom. We are so very proud of you and we are proud of everything you have accomplished in your 20 years on the Court of Appeals.”

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