Justice Kay Cobb remembered by colleagues for attention to details

Published 9:49 am Monday, May 29, 2023

Retired Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice Kay B. Cobb died on May 26, 2023, at her home in Lenoir City, Tenn. She was 81.

A memorial service will be held later. A date has not been announced.

Justice Cobb was a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. She was the second woman to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court, serving from 1999 until 2007.

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Chancellor Vicki Cobb Daniels of Batesville, Cobb’s sister-in-law, said, “I was always so proud of her because she paved the way for the rest of us. She set a tremendous example for other women to follow.”

Colleagues recalled her as an extremely hard working jurist who always gave thorough analysis and meticulous attention to detail in every case that came before her.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. of Jackson was a law school. classmate and a colleague on the Court. He said, “She was fearlessly independent. I have always been impressed with her determination and work ethic, exemplified by her entering law school with two young daughters at home.” On the Court, “I don’t think anyone worked harder in the pursuit of the correct result for her cases. Her conduct always demonstrated moral and character strength and the best interests of the Judiciary.”

Former Presiding Justice George C. Carlson of Batesville, who was a Circuit Judge before serving on the Supreme Court, recalled Justice Cobb from her time in private law practice, and they served together on the Supreme Court. “When I was a Circuit Judge, she occasionally appeared before me as an attorney. She prepared meticulously for her cases, and she had that same work ethic as a justice. At the Supreme Court, our offices were next to each other, and quite often, when I left the office for the day, she was still in her office working. She was a wonderful person and an exceptional justice.”

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Donna Barnes of Tupelo said, “She was a wonderful woman and a wonderful jurist. She was so direct and straightforward, yet approachable. She gave me moral support and advice.” Both women have the distinction of being the second female judge to serve on their respective courts.

Former Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed Justice Cobb to the Supreme Court on April 1, 1999. She was elected in 2000 to a full term. She served for eight years, retiring on May 1, 2007. She was chair of the Supreme Court Human Resources and Computer committees. She was the Court’s liaison to the Gender Fairness Advisory Study Committee and the Commission to Address Concerns for Impaired Lawyers.

Her first elective office was in the Mississippi Senate. She served as state Senator for District 9, representing Calhoun, Lafayette and Yalobusha counties, from January 1992 to January 1996.

Kay Beevers Cobb was born Feb. 28, 1942, in Quitman County. She grew up on a farm in Cleveland. She was valedictorian of her Cleveland High School graduating class. She was class president at Mississippi University for Women, where she graduated in 1963. She taught elementary school for three years to children of military personnel while her husband, Larry Cobb, was stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Japan. She spent five years as a job placement counselor for the Texas Employment Commission, where she assisted people with physical handicaps and people recently released from prison in efforts to find employment.

In 1975, she and her family moved to Oxford, where she enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law. She earned a law degree in 1978. She practiced law in Oxford until November 1982, when she became Director of Prosecutor Programs at the Mississippi Prosecutors College at the University of Mississippi School of Law. She served as senior attorney for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics from December 1984 to June 1988. She became a special assistant attorney general and established a North Mississippi regional office in 1988. She served as state coordinator for the State Wide Education, Enforcement and Prevention System (SWEEPS) program, where she was responsible for community mobilization in drug education and prevention efforts. She also served on the President’s Commission on Model State Drug Laws and the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

She was president of the Mississippi University for Women Alumnae Board and chair of the Inter-Alumni Council for State Institutions of Higher Learning. She received the MUW Medal of Excellence in 1990 and the Mississippi State University Outstanding Mississippi Woman Award in 1992.

“She has such a life of service to her family, the community and the legal profession.,” Judge Daniels said. Reflecting on Justice Cobb’s diverse work and life experiences, she said, “She could handle working cows. She sat on the Supreme Court and was such a lady.” And at holidays and other special events, she always baked a marvelous multi-layered coconut cake.

Justice Cobb in earlier interviews said that during her career, when one door closed, another door opened to a new opportunity.

At the September 6, 2018, ceremony in which Justice Cobb formally presented her portrait to the Supreme Court, her close friend Mary Libby Payne, the first woman elected to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, said she was disappointed that she didn’t get to serve with Cobb on that court. Judge Payne said that Gov. Kirk Fordice was expected to appoint Cobb to a vacancy on the Court of Appeals, but when Justice James L Roberts resigned from the state’s highest court to run for governor, Fordice appointed Cobb to the newly open position.

At the portrait ceremony, Justice Waller noted that Justice Cobb authored 211 majority opinions during her eight years on the Supreme Court. He said that her best known case is probably the Feb. 19, 2004, decision she authored in Janssen Pharmaceutica v. Armond, an interlocutory appeal in a pharmaceutical injury lawsuit that involved 56 patients from seven counties suing 42 physicians. One plaintiff and none of the physicians lived in Jones County, where the lawsuit was filed. The decision reformed joinder and venue in civil litigation.

After the accolades, Justice Cobb told the crowd at the portrait ceremony, “I’m almost speechless. I’m humbled. God has given me a lot of help through the years. I didn’t do it alone.” She thanked all those who touched her career and her life. “I want to say thank you… for helping me make a happy life, a productive life, and I hope that I can pass it along to my family.”