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Monday, April 07, 2003

20 Questions for Justice Kay B. Cobb of the Supreme Court of Mississippi: "How Appealing" is very pleased that Justice Kay B. Cobb of the Supreme Court of Mississippi has agreed to be the third participant in this Web log's new monthly feature, "20 Questions for the Appellate Judge."

On April 1, 1999, then�Governor Kirk Fordice appointed Justice Cobb to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Mississippi. She won a retention election in 2000 and is now serving an eight-year term that will expire in January 2009. Justice Cobb received her undergraduate degree from the Mississippi University for Women and her law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law. She resides in Oxford, Mississippi, and the Supreme Court of Mississippi has its headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi.

Questions appear below in italics, and Justice Cobb's responses follow in plain text.

1. What are your most favorite and least favorite aspects of serving as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Mississippi?

Every day brings a new challenge and new knowledge. Whether studying an obscure law or a complex case, or trying to anticipate the interpersonal dynamics of the eclectic group of nine justices known as the Mississippi Supreme Court, there is certainly never a dull moment! Knowing that what we do as a Court is important not only to the individual citizens of our state but also to the State as a whole, is both humbling and energizing.

The least favorite aspect for me is the heavy workload. Our Court is not a discretionary court, so anyone who wishes to challenge a decision of our trial courts is allowed to file an appeal. Although we have authority to deflect cases to the Court of Appeals, which relieves much of the load, the more difficult and complex cases, plus all cases involving constitutional questions, death penalty, first impressions, newly developing law and a whole litany of special subjects (election contests, utility rates, annexations, bar and judicial discipline matters, etc.) are assigned to our Court. In addition, we have the administrative responsibility and rule making authority for the entire state judicial system. The result of all that is a "very full plate." To top it off, we operate under a statutorily imposed mandate to issue a decision in every case within 270 days after the final briefs have been filed with the Court. So there is no rest for the weary . . . and there's often not enough time to prepare the more difficult cases as thoughtfully and thoroughly as I would like.

2. Identify the one federal or state court judge, living or dead, whom you admire the most and explain why.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is the first name that comes to mind, and after thinking through a number of other possibilities, she remains my first choice. The list of "judicial reasons why" is long: clear and well-reasoned writing; balanced approach to issues; insightful questions at oral argument; judicial restraint; more concerned about reaching the right result than about controversial theories of jurisprudence; strong belief in our federal system of government and respect for the role of the states; moderate to conservative viewpoint; practical application of the law; and many other positive attributes which are well known to the bench and bar.

The list of "personal reasons" is more detailed. Justice O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court four years after I graduated from law school, and she instantly became a role model for me and thousands of other women attorneys. Because she was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, I have followed her with special interest through the years. Our backgrounds have a number of similarities: we each have served in all three branches of government - the executive, as assistant attorneys general in our respective states; the legislative, as state senators; and the judicial, as appellate justices. For at least part of our appellate careers, we each served as the only woman on a court of nine justices. We each have had long marriages blessed with children and grandchildren. We each have lived on cattle ranches. And we each have fought and won a battle with breast cancer. Thus I can identify with her as well as look up to her as a marvelous representative of women attorneys and judges throughout the nation. Only once have I had an opportunity to meet her personally and then for only a very brief time, but she remains an inspiration and role model, both professionally and personally, for me today.

3. How did you come to be selected to fill a vacancy that existed on the Supreme Court of Mississippi in 1999, and do you think your likelihood of winning the 2000 retention election played any role in Governor Fordice's decision to select you?

First let me correct you in your designation of my election as a retention election. In Mississippi, Supreme Court Justices are elected in popular, district-wide elections. I was elected from the Northern District of Mississippi, which is comprised of 33 counties and covers more than one-third of the state.

There is no question that my likelihood of winning the 2000 election played a major role in Governor Fordice's decision to appoint me. In fact, he had no litmus test regarding issues, and made no inquiry as to my philosophy on any issues. He did, however, ask me one (and only one) question: "Will you run for the office in 2000 if I appoint you?" My affirmative answer, plus the fact that I had twice been elected to the state senate, and had been active several years earlier in my husband's congressional race in the same geographical area, all played a significant role.

How I came to be selected is more difficult to answer. I had not met Governor Fordice until he ran for governor, and won, in 1991. We were from different parts of the state, and although we were in the same political party, our paths had not crossed. He was elected governor and I was elected to the state senate that same year, and because we had similar views on a number of issues, we worked together to accomplish some important fiscally conservative changes in state government. When an abrupt and immediate vacancy occurred on the Supreme Court, my name was already on his "short list" for consideration for appointment to an impending vacancy on the Court of Appeals. Thus, when "the call" came, it was to offer me the position on the Supreme Court. Although it has never been articulated, in retrospect, I believe there are three basic reasons why I was selected: first, not being a lawyer himself, he was comfortable with my style because I was (and am) a rather non-traditional lawyer; second, as a senator I had the reputation of being the one who actually took the time to read and understood the bills that came before us; and third, I stood up for what I discerned was right and best for our entire state, and did not bow to special interest groups, or to powerful local interest groups (which ultimately led to my defeat as senator).

4. In Pennsylvania, as in Mississippi, state appellate court judges are elected, and I'm therefore familiar with many of the criticisms raised against using that method to select judges. Of course, the federal system for selecting and installing appellate judges can present its own difficulties, as we are once again seeing in Washington, D.C. Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that a 51st State is created and you are put in charge of deciding the method for selecting that State's appellate judges. What method would you select, and why?

Well, first let me say that I would hope that the 51st state would not come into being for another several months, maybe even as late as January 1, 2004, because at this moment I am still researching and comparing the various options and have not yet reached a conclusion as to how the ideal system should be structured.

We have informally discussed various options administratively, within our Court, and we have been provided with basic research and materials by our central legal and court administration staff. I lean toward some form of appointment-retention plan, with a very broad-based nominating commission which would screen and recommend the best qualified candidates to the governor (or whoever would make the appointment). To date, I have not seen a model which meets all my criteria. And unless some lawful way can be found to reduce the huge amount of money that is being put into judicial races by special interest groups, I'm not sure it will matter which method is chosen.

5. The U.S. Supreme Court last June issued a ruling in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, No. 01-521 (U.S. June 27, 2002), that struck down as unconstitutional a judicial campaign restriction intended to prevent candidates for elected judicial offices from announcing views on disputed legal or political issues. As someone who has run as a candidate in a contested judicial election and voted in other such elections, do you view the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling as a positive development, a negative development, or somewhere in between?

On the whole, I view it as much more positive than negative, and I believe it was correctly decided. As a judicial candidate, it was difficult for me, and frustrating to the voters, to be limited to saying only that I would faithfully and impartially perform the duties of my office. The voters felt, and I agreed, that they needed more information in order to cast an informed vote. Any explanation of the limitations imposed by our Code of Judicial Conduct often fell on deaf ears. I think Justice O'Connor was correct, in her concurring opinion, when she said that elections are not the best system, but if we are going to have them, then they must be treated as what they are, elections. It is certainly better to be able to discuss issues than to be restricted to smiling and waving.

6. Why did you decide to attend law school twelve years after finishing college, and when did it first occur to you that serving as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Mississippi was something you would like to do?

My life was fairly predictable for a woman in my generation, until that fateful decision was made: graduated from college; married a great guy I met during college; traveled with him to far away places where he served as an AF fighter pilot; gave birth to two beautiful daughters; and was a stay-at-home mom. His tour of combat duty over North Vietnam was a wake-up call for both of us. We both learned the importance of politics and the need for good citizens to take an active role, even if only in some small way, in the improvement and preservation of our great nation. It was at that point that we decided that knowledge of the law would provide a solid foundation on which to build our future, so we returned to our native Mississippi, and I enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1975. (He, at the time, was flying internationally for Braniff Airlines, and was not at all interested in being the one to tackle the books and undertake the rigorous task of law school!)

It was a good decision, although I must confess that being a judge was not one of my goals at the time. I envisioned, at most, being a law professor but thought it best for our family that I simply go into the private practice of law in our small town. The various turns in my career were actually never planned, but occurred as the result of being in the right place at the right time to fill a need and provide a service.

The idea of seeking an appellate judgeship actually first occurred to me in 1995, while I was still in the Senate, when I was advised that I was on the governor's "short list" of potential nominees for an anticipated vacancy on the Supreme Court. I was not the one selected, but the idea was planted in my mind that perhaps I could be a viable candidate in the future. The first realistic opportunity came in 1999, when the pending vacancy in the Court of Appeals was announced, as discussed in question 3, and the rest is history.

7. What qualities do you look for in deciding whom to hire as a law clerk, and are there any sorts of candidates whom you wish were applying but haven't been?

I look first to an applicant's academic record and LSAT score. There is no doubt that a sharp mind is the solid foundation on which a good law clerk is built. Because analysis and writing is a major part of what we do, I also look for law journal experience, particularly positions which require extensive use of those two skills. Two of my recent clerks had been in charge of the briefing service provided by their law journal, and because they were very familiar with the opinion process, having read all opinions handed down by our appellate courts every week, they were particularly well prepared to be immediately productive clerks. Because we work so closely with our clerks, it is also important that there is some degree of compatibility in personality. Last, but certainly not least, work ethic is extremely important. This is certainly no place for clock-watchers and minimum-effort mentalities.

While there is no particular kind of candidate I'd like to see applying (except more like those described above), there is no doubt that we face tough competition from the firms in our area which offer starting salaries to new lawyers almost double what we are able to pay. That significantly reduces the number of top-notch candidates who apply.

8. In September 2002, I published online a letter from a Mississippi-based reader of my appellate Web log who thought odd the practice of one or more of your colleagues on the Supreme Court of Mississippi to dissent, in whole or in part, without opinion from majority opinions of your court. Why would an appellate judge dissent or dissent in part without providing an explanation, and what are your views of the practice?

Having read that letter, I can sense and appreciate the frustration of the writer, and am glad to have an opportunity to shed some light on this matter. While I wouldn't go so far as to agree that this is a "plague" in our Court, and that it is "intellectual dishonesty," I do agree that it is not at all helpful. I can only speak for myself, and there may be many other reasons which the other justices would give, but in my case it is simply a matter of time constraint. As I explained in my first answer above, we are not a cert court, but rather we must take all appeals filed, and then can deflect cases to the Court of Appeals. However, that still leaves us with a heavy caseload, plus the ever-present 270 day statutory deadline to hand down opinions.

In order to meet the 270 requirement, cases must move rapidly through our system. My first responsibility is to the opinions which are assigned to me to write, so most of my time must be spent on them. Every week we have deadlines for voting on anywhere from 10 to 20 (or more) opinions from other justices. If I disagree with an opinion in circulation, I can vote either to dissent, or dissent in part and concur in part. If I agree with the result but disagree with the application and analysis of the law by which the author reached his conclusion, I can vote concur in result only. The problem is that I have only 3 weeks in which to write that separate opinion. And if, in the same circulation, there are two or three opinions with which I disagree, all of the separate opinions must be completed within that three week period. Depending on the ebb and flow of my other responsibilities here at the Court, I may simply not have time to write one, much less two or three proper separate opinions. If no one else writes a separate opinion that I can comfortably join, I am forced to simply be shown as dissenting (or whatever) without written opinion.

I ordinarily put in 13 hours per day working at the Court (only 10 on Fridays), with lunch at my desk. At night, I take home my "light" reading (all the things which justices should read that are not directly linked to the opinions we write.) I regret that there are not more hours in the day, so that I could always do everything that needs to be done in a timely manner. Since there are not, I hope that your reader who practices in Mississippi will better understand why sometimes even I am shown as dissenting, or concurring in part, without written opinion.

9. I understand that the Supreme Court of Mississippi is divided into three geographic districts -- Northern, Central, and Southern -- and that three Justices serve in each district. Moreover, I note that only voters in the district in which the Justice serves vote to elect Justices who serve in that district. Readers of "How Appealing" would be interested to learn from you about your court, its history, how cases reach it, and whether it always sits en banc or sometimes sits using smaller panels.

Mississippi became a state in 1817, and our constitution established a three member Supreme Court. Through the years the number was expanded to six, and then to nine, which is the number we have today.

As I stated in answer 1 above, all cases in which appeals are filed are assigned to our Court, and we deflect a significant number to the Court of Appeals. We seldom hear oral argument en banc, as most of our work is done by three judge panels. Cases are assigned on a purely random basis, insofar as subject matter is concerned. Every ninth case retained by our Court is assigned to me. There are some equalization factors that come into the assignment equation, for cases with an exceptionally large number of volumes.

All death penalty cases are assigned on a separate rotation, so that I also receive every ninth death penalty case. Initially all cases, even death penalty cases, are reviewed by a three judge panel.

The composition of the three judge panels changes every two months, by a computer-driven random assignment which assures that we seldom serve with the same three justices more than once each year. The writing justice presents a memo or proposed opinion to the panel and those are discussed at panel conferences. If the panel agrees on the disposition of the case, the writing justice finalizes the opinion and it circulates to the entire Court. Any one justice can vote to take any case en banc. If the panel is split, the dissenter may either write immediately and both opinions are circulated together, or the dissenter may wait until the votes are cast in the initial circulation, and then prepare and circulate a separate opinion with the original.

10. What are the three most important suggestions you have for attorneys concerning how they can improve their written work product filed with the Supreme Court of Mississippi?

First, keep it simple. That's hard to do, especially in more complex and difficult cases, but it's worth the effort. Organize it logically, generally with your most favorable and crucial issues addressed first. Spend the time necessary to reduce the key points to simple statements. Remember that you can write a brilliant and scholarly brief, but if it's too difficult to follow, you may lose your reader's attention and focus. Outline your theory clearly and concisely at the beginning, in simple terms.

Second, make it easy to read. We don't have any absolute restrictions (other than number of pages) as to how you present your case on paper, but it's not a good idea to crowd as much as you can onto the allotted number of pages. One of the most effective briefs I've seen was written by a former member of this Court. It was in slightly larger than normal type, using a font with clear, block letters. He used indentions, bold face type, italics, etc. to make his main points stand out. He provided the law, but did not belabor the analysis of the cited cases. What a refreshing change from extra-long sentences filled with too many adverbial phrases, and pronouns which leave you guessing which �him� or �her� is being discussed.

Third, don't be disingenuous with the Court. We do read the briefs, and the cases cited. If counsel stretches the truth, or cites cases for propositions which are simply not to be found in those cases, then his or her credibility is lost. It's hard, then, to take seriously the remainder of the brief, after discovering one or two of those kinds of "mischaracterizations." It certainly can jeopardize your client's case.

11. What are the three most important pieces of advice you have for attorneys concerning how they can improve their performance at oral argument?

First, be prepared. Remember that you should know more about the case than anyone else in the courtroom. If you don't fully understand the law which you are asking us to apply to the case, as well as how it applies to the facts, how can you possibly expect to persuade us that the law is on your side? Some specifics that will be helpful include: (a) give us citations to the record for all key points you make, because all of us will not have read the entire record, and will not have the time to read it before voting on the opinion; and (b) if you don't know the answer to a direct question you are asked, simply say so, and then smoothly carry the discussion back to whatever else you wanted to say.

Second, speak clearly, slowly and loud enough to be easily understood. Repeat key points occasionally. You may know exactly what you're saying and where you're heading, but we may not stay with you if you race through your argument. It's better to clearly state your case, even if you don't have time to put in every detail, than to get it all in, but leave us with a blurred understanding of the points you were trying to make.

Third, don't dwell on the facts, even though a brief recitation of them initially will help set the stage for your arguments on the law. We are there to hear about the law, not the facts.

12. How do you define the term "judicial activism," and isn't it true that Justices serving on courts of last resort sometimes have little other than their own personal preference concerning the result to guide them in deciding cases?

Judicial activism, to me, means making decisions based on personal preference, rather than on the rule of law. Another similar meaning might be making decisions that are legislative in nature and effect. Maybe even simpler put: judicial activism is the opposite of judicial restraint. Again, I can only speak for myself and not for my fellow justices, but I find myself on occasion slipping toward judicial activism without even realizing it, much less intending to do so. Maybe it's the former senator in me; maybe it's because I want to "do good" for society. Whatever the reason, I must always be on guard.

I disagree somewhat with your statement that justices on courts of last resort sometimes have little other than our own personal preferences concerning the result to guide us. Even when there is no precedent in our jurisdiction "on point," there are a number of other places to turn for direction/instruction rather than just saying, "Well, I think this is probably the best or fairest outcome, so I will vote to affirm the trial court." I would hope that we would first exhaustively research the law in our sister states, both state and federal courts. If applicable law is found, then the only "personal preference" might be whether, based on all the knowledge gleaned from my research and analysis, I believe that State A's law on the issue is better than State B's, as applied to the case before us. Only when there is no law found, should I go to the next tier, which would be to make a decision based on public policy. Stated another way, after researching all related law, looking at the impact on the citizens of our state (as opposed to the individual litigants) which would occur if we establish precedent in one direction or the other. Let's face it: this job is much easier when there is a solid case on point that controls. Of course, if that was the usual situation, there would be little need for a Supreme Court, right?

13. I see that before you became a Justice you served in the Mississippi State Senate. How if at all does having served in the legislative branch influence you in your work as a judge?

It helps to have been a part of the law-making process; to have a thorough understanding of that process. It certainly makes it easier to understand why some statutes are so unclear and imprecise. Occasionally I have "flashbacks" to arguments on the floor of the senate when a convoluted bill was passed, and the chairman of a committee would say something to the effect of "don't worry about the details . . . we'll let those lawyers and judges figure them out." However, in the pure sense of the word "influence," I believe that it has very little effect on my work as a judge. Because our state has very scant records of legislative matters, we basically do not get into the discussion of legislative intent in our opinions construing statutes. Having been in that body, and realizing the misinterpretations which could all too easily be made, I am comfortable with our system.

14. On November 26, 2002, the Mississippi State Legislature passed the Mississippi Tort Reform Act, which became effective January 1, 2003. Before this Act became law, some regarded Mississippi as a haven for products-liability plaintiffs who were seeking large damage awards. Do you think that pre-2003 view was accurate or not, and how quickly do you expect judicial challenges to the Act to reach your court?

Much of the publicity was blown out of proportion, but I admit that there are some problem areas in our state. It will be awhile yet before challenges reach our desks, but it is just a matter of time. Both "sides" in the tort reform debate rumbled about the final version being unconstitutional. Because it likely will be tested on interlocutory appeal, which would be assigned initially to a three-judge motion panel, it's hard to predict how soon we will see it.

15. What's the status of the recommendations for judicial salary increases and judicial campaign reforms that the Study Commission on the Mississippi Judicial System provided to Mississippi's Legislature in December 2001?

Our legislature, which adjourns sine die on April 6, has sent to the governor a bill which has a rather modest salary increase for trial and appellate judges, as well as all statewide elected officials. It is seriously anticipated that he will veto it, and it isn't clear whether the votes are there for an override. Other recommended items did not fare so well. The effort to increase terms for trial judges to from four to six years failed. The commission's recommendation that judges and justices appointed to fill an unexpired term should be appointed for the entirety of the remaining term failed, but the amended version did give some relief to the appointed appellate judges and justices in that they will not have to run immediately, but rather will run at the next regular judicial election year. Our Court substantially revised the Code of Judicial Conduct effective April 2002, and addressed some of the campaign issue recommendations by rule. It is interesting to note that, several months before the decision in Republican Party v. White, our Rules Committee (a three-justice committee on which I serve) deleted the �announce� clause in our revision of our Code of Judicial Conduct.

16. What are your views concerning the confirmation battle over Mississippi-based U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering, Sr.'s nomination to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit?

I have known Judge Pickering and his wonderful family for many, many years, since long before I had even thought of becoming an attorney. Based on my personal knowledge, as well as the enormous amount of testimony and reports from various sources during the many months since his confirmation process began, I cannot think of a single person who is more capable, more qualified, more fair to all people, and more dedicated than Judge Charles Pickering. The political posturing and in-fighting has reached absurd levels with regard to his nomination, to the detriment of the process and the nation.

17. Right now you are the only female serving as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Mississippi. Should voters, Governors, or Presidents consider a judicial candidate's gender in deciding which candidate to vote for or nominate, and why? Also, your court's Gender Fairness Task Force in November 2002 reported that gender bias is not a widespread problem in the Mississippi judicial system. Do you agree with that finding, and have you personally experienced any instances of gender bias during your career as a practicing lawyer?

I strongly believe that voters or appointing authorities should consider gender in deciding which candidate to vote for or to appoint. With regard to the trial bench, I believe that women can do the job as well as, if not better than, men, although possibly in somewhat different style. With regard to the appellate bench, I believe our "feminine traits" are arguably even more important.

Realizing that these are all generalizations, based on my experiences and observations of 60+ years, I offer the following reasons, which come to mind quickly: we bring a different perspective to the bench and to the conference table - men and women simply think differently and approach analysis and problem solving differently; we are more attentive to detail, which is quite important in the work we do; we bring gentility to the debate; we are accustomed to having to work harder just to be equal, thus having established a strong work ethic which is an important asset to the Court; and we tend to try harder to weigh all sides of an issue, and resolve conflicts rather than being combative and hostile.

Although I was not on the Gender Fairness Task Force, I was very interested, and somewhat surprised, at the results found in its report. GFTF surveyed judges, attorneys, court personnel, jurors, and the public, conducted statewide public hearings, and solicited written comments. Its findings are supported by reliable data and represent the product of four years of study and investigation, so I would be citing anecdotal evidence if I personally reached a different conclusion. The GFTF found that there were patterns of gender bias in the judicial system, but they are perceived to be relatively low and non-systemic. It is troublesome, however, that among those who witnessed or heard about incidents of gender bias, most believe that it unfairly influenced the outcome of the case. Although the GFTF concluded that gender bias is not widespread, it did recommend that the lingering perceptions of gender bias be addressed by the Supreme Court as well as other groups such as the Mississippi Bar and the Mississippi Judicial College. Our Court has already taken some specific actions, such as the revision in the Code of Judicial Conduct to require judges themselves, lawyers appearing before them, and all court staff, to refrain from any manifestation of gender (or other) bias.

As to whether I personally have experienced any instances of gender bias during my career as a practicing lawyer, the answer is "yes," but fortunately they were minor, and few and far between. And because they were not unexpected, maybe I was "programmed" to see it more of an inconvenience to work around, rather than a hurdle to leap or a mountain to climb. Although we've come a long way, there still are subtle (and for the most part, I believe, unintended) actions or inactions which indicate that work still needs to be done.

18. Your biography shows that before arriving at the Supreme Court of Mississippi you focused on the issue of illegal drugs, both as a prosecutor and as a legislator. How if at all has your service as an appellate judge changed your views on that difficult issue, and do you believe that lengthy prison sentences for what some see as relatively minor drug offenses are a useful tool in the war against illegal drugs?

First let me clarify that I never have served as a prosecutor myself. In the early 80's I was the director of the Mississippi Prosecutor's College which was an adjunct program at the University of Mississippi Law School, responsible for training, providing research and assistance with legislative matters for the district attorneys and other prosecutors of our state.

I don't think my service as an appellate judge has changed my views on the difficult issue of illegal drugs. If anything, it has just heightened my awareness of the substantial impact which illegal drugs have on our society. Although "minor drug offenses" could be said to be in the eye of the beholder, I agree that lengthy sentences, without treatment and rehabilitation, are a costly and ineffective remedy in the long run.

Our Court has become aware of unique successes which have occurred in special Drug Courts established in some counties in our state in the last year or two. We gave our blessing to the expansion of that project and the 2003 legislature has sent to the governor a bill which provides for the establishment of Drug Courts throughout the state, although state funding is not provided. This program seems to offer the first real hope for breaking the cycle of using, then stealing to buy, then selling, etc. but it can only deal with one life at a time. Notwithstanding the fact that it will require extra time as well as personal involvement by the judges, most who will be adding this special project to their already heavy workload are enthusiastic. I am hopeful.

19. For those of us unfamiliar with Oxford, Mississippi, where you live, and Jackson, Mississippi, where the Supreme Court of Mississippi has its headquarters, would you please recommend a few things that a visitor to those areas should do or see.

Oxford is a beautiful, quiet, safe and friendly small Mississippi town which is absolutely glorious this time of year. The daffodils and other bulbs, as well as the Japanese magnolias, have been in full bloom, and the dogwood and cherry trees are just beginning to blossom. Other indigenous shrubs are also beautiful, and spring is in the air. Oxford is the home of author William Faulkner, and his home, Rowan Oak is a favorite tourist stop. Another famous author, John Grisham, is also from Oxford, and still maintains a home here, but there is nothing yet enshrined for him. The University of Mississippi is the cultural center of the town, and the new Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on campus has just had its inaugural gala this past weekend. It is a beautiful structure, and compares favorably with like facilities in major cities around the country. For the usual concerts, speakers, and theatre events which come to the campus, plus new ones which will be drawn there, attendance at any event at the Ford Center promises to be worth traveling to see and hear. And, of course, there are great SEC athletic events on campus the year around. There are many restaurants here comparable to those found in large cities, with true small town hospitality tossed in for good measure.

Jackson has even more points of interest. Our state capitol building is incredible with its beautiful stain glass windows and marble surroundings. The Mississippi Museum of Art and the Agriculture Museum each display many items of interest every day of the year. Every four years the International Ballet competition is held in Jackson and thus 2006 will bring visitors from all over the world.

20. What do you like to do for fun or relaxation when you are not busy performing your duties as a Justice on Mississippi's highest court?

My family is the most important aspect of my life outside the Court. I spend my weekends with my husband in Oxford, and we try to visit the children and grandchildren often. I have even learned to fly in the past year, so that I can be a "pinch hitter" pilot if needed when my husband flies us to see them. I teach 2 and 3 year old children in Sunday School each week, and they keep me humble. They don't know, of course, that I'm a justice, or anything other than "Miss Kay" who loves to teach and play with them. I truly delight in listening to good symphonies on CD as I commute 3 hours each way on the weekends. Finally, I enjoy aerobics and toning classes and walking each day at the fitness center.

"20 Questions" for:

Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith

Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Kay B. Cobb

Ninth Circuit Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld

Ninth Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins

Third Circuit Judge Ruggero J. Aldisert

Eleventh Circuit Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat

Federal Circuit Judge William Curtis Bryson

Eleventh Circuit Judge Stanley F. Birch, Jr.

Eighth Circuit Judge Richard S. Arnold

Seventh Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner

Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Deanell Reece Tacha

Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt

First Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya

U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur
(N.D. Ill.)

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Richard B. Teitelman

California Court of Appeal Justice William W. Bedsworth (4th Dist., Div. 3)

Tenth Circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr.

Seventh Circuit Judge Frank H. Easterbrook

Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson

Seventh Circuit Judge Diane S. Sykes

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