For only the third time in the history of the Supreme Court of Mississippi, a Hattiesburg native will assume the position of Chief Justice of the state’s highest court.
Michael K. Randolph, who joined the court in 2004 and currently serves as Presiding Justice, was named Friday as the new Chief Justice after the retirement of Current Chief Justice William L. Waller, who will step down from the post on Jan. 31. Randolph is the second-longest serving justice on the court after Waller.
“Fortunately, it’s a couple of months out, so it gives me a little time to take a deep breath and get prepared to try to follow in some pretty big footsteps,” Randolph said. “I actually want to try to accomplish what Chief Waller has (during his time on the court). He served the court with dignity, honor and integrity, and I hope that I can emulate that.”
Randolph joins Edwin L. Pittman and Daniel McKinnon Lee as Hattiesburg natives to assume the position.
Randolph served as an air traffic controller with the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. After the war, he graduated from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida – where he obtained a B.S. degree in business administration – before earning his Juris doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1974.
Randolph graduated from the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island, before being honorably discharged in 1975. He began practicing law the same year in Biloxi, and later in Pascagoula and Gulfport.
In 1976, he opened an office in Hattiesburg for Bryan, Nelson, Allen and Schroeder in 1976, where he later formed the firm of Bryan Nelson Randolph, PA. He served as the firm’s president and CEO until his appointment by former Gov. Haley Barbour in April 2004 to serve the unexpired term of the retiring Pittman, and was elected in November of that year. He was re-elected in 2012.
In addition to his judicial experience, Randolph also has served on the boards of directors of William Carey University, the Boys and Girls Club of Hattiesburg, the Hattiesburg Girls Shelter and the advisory board of the Hattiesburg Salvation Army, and also was a member of the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg.
Randolph is a member of the American Bar Association, the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit, the Mississippi Bar Association and the South Central Mississippi Bar Association, where he formerly served as president.
He currently represents Supreme Court District 2, which is made up of 27 counties in the southern part of Mississippi, including Forrest, Lamar, Jones, Perry and Marion counties.
“The importance of courts in relationship to our form of government – we don’t have officers to enforce our rules, and we don’t have jails to make people do right,” Randolph said. “We hand out decisions, and our society has to depend upon the integrity and honesty of those decisions, and then they honor them.
“So the court has got to always maintain a steady approach to whatever conflicts come before it, to insist that the letter of the law be followed. It’s the job of the court to ensure that every man and woman that appears before that court gets an honest decision. There’s no favoritism – it doesn’t make a difference if you’re a doctor or a patient, a lawyer or a police officer – we try to ensure that the law has been followed and that local judges have correctly applied the law.”
Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to appoint a new Justice to the District 1, Place 1 seat currently occupied by Waller, who was elected in November 1996. The next election for the seat will be held in November 2020, and the next eight-year term will begin in January 2022.
“I have elected to tender my resignation and retire from public service effective January 31, 2019, completing more than 21 years of service on the Mississippi Supreme Court and 10 years as Chief Justice,” Waller said in a statement. “It has been my highest privilege to be elected as a Justice of the Supreme Court and serve as Chief Justice of Mississippi.”