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Lee: ‘Complete package’ to serve on court

With a business background and an over 30-year career in lawpractice, state Court of Appeals Judge Joe Lee said he has a”complete package of life experiences” that would enable him totake a seat on the state Supreme Court bench.

“I feel like my experience is best suited for me to be in aposition to best serve the people,” said Lee Thursday during ameeting with The DAILY LEADER editorial board.

Lee also mentioned support from friends and legal colleagues inhis decision to seek the high court post.

“It seemed logical to me to offer my candidacy,” Lee said. “Ifeel I have the training and experience to move up.”

Lee, the presiding judge on the state appeals court, facesappointed incumbent Supreme Court Justice Mike Randolph andPascagoula Municipal Court Judge David M. Ishee in the Novembergeneral election. The winner will be elected to an eight-year termto represent 27 south Mississippi counties.

While elected from districts, Lee said judges rule on cases fromacross the state.

Lee, a registered voter in Ellisville, downplayed any potentialconflict with his living just outside Jackson, which is not in thesouthern district. He cited travel and practical reasons for livingin Brandon.

“Anybody on the court of appeals or the supreme court just abouthas to live in Jackson,” Lee said. “It’s a necessity.”

Lee was first elected to the appeals court in 1998 and wasre-elected without opposition in 2002. He said he has six yearsremaining in the current term.

Lee, a former school teacher and principal, began practicing lawin 1973. He said he has handled a wide variety of criminal andcivil cases in his career and has represented both plaintiffs anddefendants.

Lee, former owner of Baldwin-Lee Funeral Home in Jackson, alsotouted his business background as giving him some insight into howbusinesses are affected by lawsuits.

“I understand what it is having a claim filed against you,” saidLee, referring to unemployment issues, personal injuries and otherlawsuits. “I know what it is to be on the receiving end ofthat.”

Lee acknowledged some recent tort reform changes. Referring toold venue laws, he said it was fundamentally unfair for a businessto be dragged into a court district where the business had notconducted any activities.

“Some tort reform was necessary, absolutely,” the judgesaid.

However, Lee said only six or seven counties in the state areknown for rendering verdicts that are not reasonable. He said thecourt of appeals has looked out for and continued to take care ofbusinesses when they have appealed lower court verdicts.

The judge went on to say a sensitive, learned judiciary isneeded. He said there were already laws on the books that givejudges powers to reduce verdicts or provide other relief.

“I think what is needed now is for judges to utilize those anddo their jobs,” Lee said.