JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Chief Judge Donna Barnes of Tupelo was sworn in as the first woman judge to lead the Mississippi Court of Appeals on February 1, 2019.
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael K. Randolph signed the order appointing Judge Barnes as Court of Appeals Chief Judge before a large crowd in the En Banc courtroom in Jackson before he administered the oath of office.
“This really is an historic occasion,” said Joy Lambert Phillips of Gulfport, who served as the first woman president of the Mississippi Bar in 2005.
“She’s a trailblazer in her own right, but I think she will quickly tell you that she stood on the shoulders of all those women who came before her, women who blazed a trail when there was not even a narrow path to follow.”
Chief Judge Barnes recognized in the audience former Judge Mary Libby Payne, the first woman and one of the original judges of the Court of Appeals. Others who inspired her included Supreme Court Chief Justice Lenore Prather, the first woman to serve on the state’s highest court and the only woman Chief Justice, and the late Lt. Governor Evelyn Gandy.
“I owe each of these ladies a debt I can never repay, for doing what was not easy,” Chief Judge Barnes said. “My pledge to all the women in the profession who prepared my way, is that I will, in the way that I fulfill my duties as Chief Judge, try to make it easier for the women who come after.”
She expressed thanks not only to women of the state’s highest offices, but to women such as Jean Magee, the first female lawyer hired at the law firm of Mitchell, McNutt and Sams in Tupelo.
Magee’s example of hard work helped open the way for Barnes to become the firm’s second woman lawyer. Exemplary trial judges including Denise Owens, Patricia Wise, Jacqueline Mask and Sharion Aycock influenced voters to consider electing other women judges.
Former Gov. Haley Barbour, who appointed Judge Barnes to the Court of Appeals in August 2004, said she exemplified what he was looking for in a judicial appointee.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude and a law degree magna cum laude from the University of Mississippi. With 18 years of law practice, “Donna’s reputation in the bar was sterling. Her stature in the community was the best.”