Sid Salter

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2008

Salter: Does Easley want apology for my words or his?

State Supreme Court Justice Chuck Easley told one of this newspaper’s reporters that the reason he refused a meeting with The Clarion-Ledger’s Editorial Board was that I haven’t given him “an apology” for a May 14 column (“Easley’s ‘statement’ is one of lack of respect for state’s women”).

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Well, Justice Easley, let me address your contention. There are a couple of good reasons why I haven’t apologized for the column.

First, you haven’t asked me for one. I realize that it makes a convenient excuse when you don’t want to face tough questions from a newspaper’s editorial board to pout and claim to have your feelings hurt over a column.

But the fact is, you haven’t asked  me for an apology. Ever.

Second, there’s no basis for seeking an apology — unless one simply doesn’t like to be hoisted on one’s own petard. The column Easley didn’t like simply quoted Easley’s own words and actions.

What was the basis of the column in question?

Easley initially qualified to run for not one but two state Supreme Court seats from the state’s northern district — the one he has held since 2000 and also the seat Justice Ann Hannaford Lamar of Senatobia was appointed to in 2007.

Since Easley can’t legally occupy both of those seats on the bench of the state’s highest court, why would a judge who wanted to be taken seriously resort to such a self-serving tactic — one that followed to its logical extreme could force the taxpayers to foot the bill for a special election?

Easley told the press that he qualified to seek both judicial posts in order to make a statement “about special interest groups wanting appointed judges. Mississippians should always have the right to vote for their judges.”

Calling the current court “too liberal” and suggesting that it “bends over backwards for criminals,” Easley told his hometown newspaper that he qualified for two Supreme Court seats to protest how governors appoint judges when midterm vacancies occur, he said.

The present nine-member state Supreme Court has five justices first placed there by governors. Lamar was appointed to take the place of the retiring Justice Kay Cobb.

In 2000, Easley defeated then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Lenore Prather of Columbus — the first female justice to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court. Prather was first appointed in 1982 by then-Gov. William Winter to fill a vacancy.

Columbus Commercial Dispatch reporter John Mott Coffey quoted Easley as saying that in tapping Justice Lamar for the vacancy created when Justice Cobb stepped down, Gov. Haley Barbour made a “politically correct” appointment to ensure the Supreme Court had at least one female member.

“Gov. Barbour just pulled her out of the air,” Easley said of Lamar, a former district attorney and Circuit Court judge.

Yet a year earlier, when Lamar was appointed, Easley was talking out of another side of his mouth. In an official Supreme Court press release dated May 9, 2007, Easley was quoted as saying: “She (Lamar) has an excellent record. She is very experienced and very qualified. I’ve heard lawyers all over the northern part of the state comment that she is an excellent judge. I look forward to working with her. She is a superb addition to the court.”

I wrote in May that Easley’s words and actions didn’t seem to be that of a jurist who had much respect for the notion of having women fill seats on the Supreme Court. I’ll stand by that opinion.

Easley eventually withdrew from Lamar’s race, then set about waging a really low road campaign to keep his own seat against the challenge of Court of Appeals Judge David Chandler.

When I make mistakes in a column, I’m quick to apologize. But in this instance, Easley’s asking me to apologize for his own words, not mine. Sorry, I’ll pass on that.

(Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail Visit his blog at