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First woman to lead Mississippi Court of Appeals

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Judge Donna M. Barnes of Tupelo will become Chief Judge of the Mississippi Court of Appeals on February 1st. An investiture ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Gartin Justice Building in Jackson. Guest speakers will be Governor Haley Barbour, who appointed Judge Barnes to the Court of Appeals in July 2004, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, and Joy Lambert Phillips, the first woman president of the Mississippi Bar.

Chief Judge Barnes will be the first woman to lead the state Court of Appeals and for the first time in its 24-year history, four of the 10 judges of the Mississippi Court of Appeals are women.

Presiding Justice Michael K. Randolph, who will become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on Feb. 1, said that he will appoint Judge Barnes as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals on his first day as leader of the Mississippi Judiciary. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court selects the Court of Appeals Chief Judge from the members of that court.

“Judge Barnes by her training, tenure, and temperament is the obvious choice to lead the Court of Appeals,” said Justice Randolph. “She is well-suited to take on the additional duties of Chief Judge. She is a legal scholar. Her private practice experience focused on appellate advocacy, and she has 14 ½  years of experience on the bench.”

Judge Barnes will replace Judge T. Kenneth Griffis of Ridgeland as Chief Judge. Judge Griffis became Chief Judge on January 2nd but will leave the Court of Appeals on Jan. 31.  Governor Phil Bryant has appointed him to a vacancy on the Supreme Court effective February 1st.

“The Court of Appeals has always had excellent leadership and I’m honored to be called upon to continue that tradition,” said Judge Barnes.

Leadership changes on the state’s two appellate courts were set in motion by the retirements of Court of Appeals Chief Judge L. Joseph Lee and Presiding Judge Tyree Irving on  Dec. 31 and Supreme Court Chief Justice Waller’s retirement on Jan. 31. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoints the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals from among that court’s 10 members. Chief Justice Waller in November selected Judge Griffis to lead the Court of Appeals, then the Governor selected Judge Griffis to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that will occur with Chief Justice Waller’s retirement.

Judge Barnes and Judge Virginia Carlton of Jackson were sworn in as Presiding Judges of the Court of Appeals on Jan. 2.  They are the first women to serve as Presiding Judges of the Court of Appeals. Chief Judge Griffis chose them for the leadership roles. Judge Jack L. Wilson of Madison will join Judge Carlton as a Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeals on Feb. 1.

Presiding judges preside over panels during oral arguments and during the internal discussion of cases. The Court of Appeals handles cases in three-judge panels, although all 10 judges of the court vote on decisions. Governor Haley Barbour appointed Judge Barnes to the appellate court on July 26, 2004. She was elected in November 2006 and re-elected in November 2010 and November 2018.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree 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, magna cum laude.  In 1996, she took a sabbatical to study law at the University of Cambridge. She earned her Master of Law from the University of Cambridge in 1997. For more than 18 years, Judge Barnes practiced law with Mitchell, McNutt, and Sams in Tupelo.

She is a member of the Mississippi Judicial College Board of Governors and the Criminal Code Revision Consulting Group. She is a former member of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission and the Judicial Advisory Study Committee. Judge Barnes was born in Natchez, Mississippi, to Ouida Eldridge Barnes and the late Charles C. Barnes. She graduated from Adams County Christian School and was a member of First Baptist Church of Natchez until her move to Tupelo. She is a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Tupelo. She also is a member of the Mary Stuart Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

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