Judge David McCarty calls for equal justice for all
March 29, 2019
Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge David Neil McCarty used the occasion of his investiture ceremony to call upon lawyers to provide more free legal services to the poor, and to urge equal justice for all in a diverse culture.
“We continue to fail those in need in Mississippi by not mandating pro bono service,” Judge McCarty told a crowd that packed the Court of Appeals En Banc Courtroom at the Gartin Justice Building in Jackson on March 27. “We need to go to work.”
Pro bono service is regarded as an obligation of the legal profession, but is voluntary for Mississippi lawyers. The Mississippi Supreme Court’s call for public comments on a proposed mandatory pro bono rule in 2010 received little support and much opposition.
Judge McCarty said his longtime friend Will Bardwell, who spoke at the investiture, was one of the few strong supporters of a mandatory pro bono rule. It was out of commitment to the Biblical admonition “To whom much is given.” McCarty stopped, hand outstretched for an audience response. “Much is required,” many replied in unison.
“We have a state that has more people in need at this time in history than any other place in our nation of 330 million people,” Judge McCarty said. “We’ve got broad shoulders. Let’s begin to carry those who have not been given what we have been given.”
McCarty spent much of his legal career representing the less fortunate, said Bardwell, now senior staff attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center. In their early careers in private practice, they often worked together, as they had offices across the hall from each other. The recession was lean times for young lawyers.
“At some point he and I decided that when the paying work dried up, we would just keep working. When the paying clients stopped coming through the door, we would go out and we would find more clients, whether they could pay or not, because David believed then as he believes now that justice is not a gas pump that you just stick your debit card in and you get as much as you can pay for,” Bardwell said. “Every client that David ever represented, he represented with honor, dignity, compassion, a commitment to civil rights and fundamental fairness. These are the qualities that made David a remarkable lawyer and will make him a great judge.”
Judge McCarty, 43, of Jackson, was elected in November 2018 to the Court of Appeals from District 4, which covers 13 southwest and south central counties and parts of Hinds and Jones counties. He took office Jan. 7. It is traditional to have a ceremonial investiture after a judge takes office.
He grew up in Alabama. His father and grandfather were coal miners. He worked in the mines too, briefly, and wasn’t very good at it, he said with a laugh. He thanked his mother, father, stepmother and aunt, who attended the ceremony. His mother held the Bible as he took the oath. His father and stepmother helped him put on the robe. “I was blessed with caring, hard working parents who always wanted more for me than I could ever have achieved on my own....They have pushed me throughout my life to go further than I ever would have,” he said.
He moved to Jackson to attend Mississippi College School of Law. He has taught at his alma mater as an adjunct professor since 2005. He was a solo practitioner who focused on appeals and complex litigation.
Patricia Bennett, Mississippi Bar President and Dean of the Mississippi College School of Law, said Judge McCarty “is uniquely suited by education, background, experience and temperament for the role of the judiciary....He exemplifies professionalism, ethics, civility and excellence in the legal profession.” He is an academic scholar, authoring the Evidence chapter of the Encyclopedia of Mississippi Law, and is a contributing author to the treatise Mississippi Civil Procedure.
Supreme Court Presiding Justice James W. Kitchens said McCarty was an excellent appellate lawyer. “It was always a joy to have him come and argue a case. So now those skills are transferred into a different aspect of the appellate judiciary.”
Danielle Love Burks, Judge McCarty’s former law clerk, said the judge’s private practice work was guided by Proverbs 31, verses 8-9, to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly. Defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Judge James E. Graves Jr. of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals administered the ceremonial oath of office. McCarty served as his law clerk when Graves was a Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Judge Graves said McCarty was smart, unselfish, respectful and hard working. “He had a genuine care and concern for the people who are affected by the work of the courts.”
Judge McCarty said working for then-Justice Graves “shaped my life. That’s when I learned for the first time...that in Mississippi the law could be for everyone and the law should be for everyone because it belongs to everyone, and if we as judges follow the law fairly and we treat everybody as equals, no matter where they are from or what they look like, what neighborhood they are from, whether they got to go to college or not or what color they are, then we magnify this great country and we create a Mississippi that is for everyone. Thank you for teaching me that.”
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves recalled U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s 1987 Constitutional Bicentennial speech in which Marshall said “We the people,” the opening phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution, did not when it was written include all people. “Because ‘we the people’ did not include people who look like me, who look like Judge Westbrooks, who look like Judge McDonald. As a matter of fact, this court’s Chief Judge and Presiding Judge Carlton would not have been included in the three word phrase ‘we the people’.”
Chief Judge Donna M. Barnes is the Court of Appeals’ first woman chief judge. Presiding Judge Virginia Carlton is the court’s second female presiding judge. Judges Latrice Westbrooks and Deborah McDonald are African American women.
Judge Reeves said a judge’s job is to give justice. “Always understand the unique and awesome power that we have,” he said. “The lawyer only has the key to the courthouse....Unlike the lawyer who is the justice seeker, the judge is there to be the giver of justice. The judge is there to make sure that those who come through those court house doors know that they will be treated with dignity, will be treated with respect....We are the justice givers.”
Speaking to Judge McCarty, Judge Reeves said, “Justice may be malleable, even elusive, but always believe it is attainable, transformative and powerful. Justice is worth pursuing. In all that we do in this noble profession, make sure that the discovery of justice is our ultimate goal. With your knowledge, with your skills, you have the power, you have the key, and now you have the awesome responsibility and the authority to go do justice.”
Judge McCarty noted the diversity of experience among the 10-member Court of Appeals includes lawyers from the highest levels of civil practice, a lawyer who worked on redistricting, a former U.S. Attorney, a former District Attorney, a U.S. Army criminal appeals judge, two former legislators and former legal counsel to the Governor.
“As I stand before you today, I can report with complete confidence that we have behind me the strongest and most varied body I believe that has ever served Mississippi in our 201 years, from every walk of life and form of service. This is the best court I believe we could ever give you,” Judge McCarty said.
He cited Medgar Evers’1961 speech in which the civil rights leader said that technology allowed Leon-tyne Price’s performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to be viewed on television in her hometown of Laurel, and Buck Rogers comic strip spaceships are reality. Evers said, “Even with this amazing advance in science and technology, man has not until this day done what God would have us do, and that is, love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Judge McCarty said, “And especially in Mississippi we must recall that means everyone – black and white, man and woman, other, gay, straight. All.”
The investiture ceremony may be viewed at this link: