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Court of Appeals Chief Judge Donna Barnes honored as trailblazer

July 18, 2019

Mississippi Court of Appeals Chief Judge Donna M. Barnes was honored July 11 as a trailblazer among women lawyers.

The first woman Chief Judge of the state Court of Appeals is the recipient of the 2019 Susie Blue Buchanan Award. The annual award, presented by the Mississippi Bar’s Women in the Profession Committee, honors an outstanding woman lawyer who has achieved professional excellence and has actively paved the way to success for other women lawyers. The award was presented during the Price-Prather Luncheon at the Mississippi Bar Convention in Destin, Fla.

The award is named for Susie Blue Buchanan of Brandon, who in 1916 became the first woman lawyer qualified to practice before the Mississippi Supreme Court. The luncheon is named for the state’s first woman judge, Washington County Court Judge Zelma Wells Price of Greenville, and the first Mississippi woman chancellor, Supreme Court Justice and Chief Justice, Lenore Loving Prather of Columbus. Chief Justice Prather was presented the Susie Blue Buchanan Award in 2005.

In her acceptance speech, Chief Judge Barnes said, “It’s not that they were just the first, but what they did as the first.” Judge Price was elected to the House of Representatives in 1943, and authored the state’s Youth Court Act, creating Mississippi’s first court system for juveniles. Gov. Hugh White appointed her to the Washington County Court in 1953. She put women on juries when state law didn’t permit women to serve.

Justice Prather wrote the landmark decisions of Albright v. Albright and Ferguson v. Ferguson. Albright created a list of considerations, now known as Albright Factors, to determine the best interests of the child in parental custody disputes. Ferguson adopted guidelines for equitable distribution of marital assets in divorce, including giving women credit for their non-financial contributions to the family.

Among other award winners are former Presiding Justice Kay Cobb; former Justice Ann Lamar; Justice Dawn Beam; former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy; former Court of Appeals Judge Mary Libby Payne, the first woman to serve on that court; Joy Lambert Phillips, the first woman president of the Mississippi Bar; Mississippi College School of Law Dean and former Mississippi Bar President Patricia Bennett; civil rights pioneer and former Assistant Secretary of State Constance Slaughter-Harvey; and U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock. A list of all former recipients of the Susie Blue Buchanan Award is at this link: https://www.msbar.org/inside-the-bar/awards/susie-blue-buchanan-award/.

Chief Judge Barnes said, “It’s truly humbling to be on the list with the former award winners. I will do my best to live up to the award.....Without these women, our true trailblazers, none of us would be sitting here today.” She said that it is her intent “to endeavor to make the path easier for those who come after us.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph named Chief Judge Barnes to lead the Court of Appeals on Feb. 1, 2019. She also was the first woman Presiding Judge of the intermediate appellate court. She has served on the Court of Appeals for 15 years, having first been appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour on July 26, 2004. She was elected in November 2006, and re-elected in November 2010 and November 2018.

Chief Judge Barnes grew up in Natchez. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1982 from the University of Mississippi, summa cum laude, with majors in classical civilizations and English. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1985. She is a member of the University of Mississippi Lamar Order. She practiced law in Tupelo with the firm of Mitchell, McNutt and Sams for more than 18 years.

In 1996, she took sabbatical to study law at the University of Cambridge, where she was one of three American students in the LL.M. program which that year admitted 152 attorneys from 48 countries. Her studies included international commercial litigation, comparative public law, international human rights, and law and practice of civil liberties. A member of Magdalene College, she earned her Master of Law from the University of Cambridge in 1997.

Chief Judge Barnes is a member of the Mississippi Judicial College Board of Governors and the Criminal Code Revision Consulting Group. She is a fellow of the Mississippi Bar Foundation. She is a former member of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission and the Judicial Advisory Study Committee.

She is a member of All Saints Episcopal Church and the Mary Stuart Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, both of Tupelo.

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