Daily Times Leader - "Rising to the top, Lamar plans to stay there"
When citizens go to the polls on Nov. 4 to cast their ballots for President of the United States, there will be a few other offices up for election as well. On the local level, there is a school board seat up for grabs as well as election commissioners for each district.
Citizens will also be voting for representation in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and at the bottom of the ballot, under bipartisan nominations, candidates for Mississippi's Supreme Court, District 1 (north), Places 1 and 2, will vie for your vote.
Both justices, Ann Lamar and Charles "Chuck" Easley, from the north district are up for election this year, and each faces different opponents, which can be confusing, said Associate Justice Ann Lamar. "Even local attorneys aren't sure who we are running against," she joked.
Lamar is opposed by Gene Barton of Okolona, and Easley by Judge David Chandler of Ackerman.
Unlike the nation's Supreme Court Justices, which are appointed for life, Mississippi's are elected to eight-year terms. The terms are staggered.
Seniority is paramount on the state Supreme Court, as the Chief Justice is determined by it. The current Chief Justice is James W. Smith, Jr. There are two Presiding Justices, William L. Waller Jr. and Oliver E. Diaz Jr., also determined by seniority, and six Associate Justices.
Lamar is an Associate Justice, currently serving the second year of her appointed term. She was appointed by Gov. Barbour in May 2007 to fill the vacancy left by Presiding Justice Kay Cobb.
She explained how Mississippi's Supreme Court justices divide cases. A three justice-panel is assigned to each case. One justice is in the lead position of reading, researching, and writing the opinion of the case. That position is rotated every two months.
The case is then "hashed out" by the justices. Some cases are quickly determined and some "we go round and round," Lamar said. "We call it pulling taffy.'"
All the justices are different, have different backgrounds and experiences. "We don't always agree, and you wouldn't want us to," she said, "but we're a congenial group. A good group to work with."
Her life has been an upward whirlwind into Mississippi's legal world, one she never really meant to enter, and she's worked hard to keep both feet on the ground. From court reporter to lawyer, to assistant district attorney, to district attorney, to circuit judge, finally to Supreme Court Justice.
Lamar married young, at 19, and thought she wanted to be a nutritionist when she graduated from Delta State University. When she and her husband, John T. Lamar, moved home to Senatobia following his graduation from law school, she had two job opportunities. One was with the Tate school district doing just what she planned, and the other was as a court reporter.
Something made her take the court reporting job. Perhaps it was her husband's new career or perhaps it was growing up with a judge for a father, Leon Hannaford, who served the Chancery court for many years.
She kept that job for two short years before deciding to go to law school in 1979. "Hey, I can do what they're doing," she said, so she applied and was accepted at the University of Mississippi Law School. "It was a good time to go back to school. It was really just when women were getting into professional schools."
Her first son, Trey, was born while she was in law school. Both grandmothers, along with a great-grandmother, were available to care for him while she finished school. "There were days when, literally, all three were fighting over who would get him," she said.
Trey graduated from law school this past May and has joined his father's practice in Senatobia. The couple's other son, Vance, lives not far away, in Memphis.
With the help of these grandmothers and a very supportive husband, she was able to work on the career she has loved and not miss a single ball game her boys played as they were growing up.
"You always have to put your family first," she said. "Know where your priorities are. I have no doubt there are women who can handle career and family, but not all women can," she said, further saying it depends on the support they have from family and friends.
"There were periods in my career when my family needed me to slow down and I did."
Although her sons are grown, she still balances family and work, as she spends three to four nights a week in Jackson. "I felt it was critical this first year to be in Jackson as much as possible. With technology, there is more I can do from Senatobia," she said. It's just a two-hour drive, though, from driveway to driveway. "It's been a juggle, but it's been easier than I thought it might be."
Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, Lamar was instrumental in the development of Tate County's Circuit Drug Court. The rigid program was for non-violent offenders and required frequent drug testing and out-patient meetings. It also required participants to be self-supporting and employed. "It was a system of quick sanctions and rewards. It took nine months to move to phase two," she said. A violation meant starting over, so the program was very successful. Not all counties have a drug court.
Lamar has long been an advocate of making legal services accessible to the poor and is serving on the Access to Justice Commission. She is also chairing a task force on domestic violence, whose goal is to make domestic violence laws uniform throughout the state, making it easier for victims to seek legal help and protection.
Lamar feels she brings balance to the Supreme Court in her varied experience. She's worked for the public for many years of her career, both in private practice and as a district attorney and judge. "I'm committed to this profession and the judiciary. It's important to me to make sure the public has confidence in the judicial system we are zealous about protecting. We're the court of last resort."