In the first part of a series of articles intended to educate voters on the appellate judges races in November, I present the following analysis of the Northern District race between Richard “Flip” Phillips and Josiah Coleman. This article includes original research as well as the response to a media inquiry to the candidates focused exclusively on legal experience. The analysis below will roughly follow the five inquiries posed to the candidates. It should be noted that Mr. Coleman failed to respond to repeated email requests for answers. This article is quite long for a blog post, so click below to read it.
1. In what year were you licensed to practice law in Mississippi and are you licensed
in any other states?
PHILLIPS: Phillips, a Batesville attorney, has been licensed for forty (40) years. He began his practice in Panola County with the same partner he has today. His firm has grown to approximately twelve (12) lawyers and numerous staff people. He is licensed in all Mississippi courts, the Fifth Circuit and the U.S Supreme Court. He has practiced pro hac vice (by permission of the court) in several states, spanning from California to New Jersey.
COLEMAN: [Failed to respond] Coleman, an Oxford attorney, is thirty nine (39) years old and has been licensed in Mississippi since 1999 (13 years). He has worked for four employers in his career. His resume does not list admission into the Fifth Circuit or U.S. Supreme Court, nor does it list any out-of-state practice. It is unknown whether he is a partner or associate at his present firm, Hickman Goza & Spragins, PLLC.
2. How many cases have you tried as lead counsel all the way to jury verdict?
PHILLIPS: In excess of twenty (20) as lead counsel.
COLEMAN: No record of Coleman trying a claim is known to exist. He is reported to have told the audience at the Good Ole Boys function that he has never tried a lawsuit.
3. On how many occasions have you been listed as the lawyer of record on published
decisions from the Mississippi Court of Appeals? The Mississippi Supreme Court? The
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals?
PHILLIPS: Phillips responded that, “My first oral argument before the Mississippi Supreme Court was in 1973, in one of the two seminal uninsured motorist insurance cases I argued before the Court resulting in published opinions that year. Since that time I have been lead counsel in the Mississippi Supreme Court in at least fifteen (15) cases producing published opinions and in numerous other cases which were addressed without full written opinions. I have been lead counsel in two cases before the Mississippi Court of Appeals, and in a number of cases before Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, three of which resulted in published opinions. I have also been counsel of record in cases producing published opinions from federal courts in other
states throughout the United States over my forty years of practice.”
COLEMAN: Coleman did not respond, but a judicial database search found Coleman’s name (see footnote 1) is included on briefs (but never as the lead lawyer) in approximately four Supreme Court decisions, four Court of Appeals decisions and one Fifth Circuit decision. Three published opinions at the trial court level (but never as the lead lawyer), where Coleman represented State Farm defending claims for Katrina related damages. There is no record of him ever orally arguing an appellate case.
4. On how many occasions have you been published (please list publications with as
much specificity as possible)?
PHILLIPS: Phillips has authored Mississippi texts and chapters in nationally published books. He has contributed to numerous law review articles, while also acting as an editorial contributor to publications on law related fields. He is considered a leading expert on certain insurance issues in Mississippi and elements of the national financial crisis.
COLEMAN: Coleman’s resume lists no published works. (See footnote 2.)
5. On how many occasions have you been a speaker that produced written materials
for a Bar-sanctioned Continuing Legal Education seminar?
PHILLIPS: Frankly, Phillips’ presentations are just too lengthy to recount in this article. But he has presented continuing education papers and presentations to attorneys from San Francisco to Miami.
COLEMAN: Coleman did not answer this inquiry and his resume lists no such presentations or papers. (See footnote 3.)
Each was also asked about peculiarities involving their first names. Phillips nickname is “Flip.” Coleman has gone by “Dennis” his entire life, but now lists himself as “Josiah.”
PHILLIPS: Phillips has a lengthy story, involving a relative in WWII, a turned over Jeep and all sort of other family issues. It is addressed in this PDF.
COLEMAN: Coleman is reported to have told the folks at the Good Ole Boys function that his wife decided recently that she liked Josiah better than Dennis, so he changed. Can't blame a man for making the wife happy.
EDITORIAL COMMENTIn May, when Phillips qualified, I wrote that it would be almost impossible for him to draw an opponent with experience anywhere close to his. Phillips’ candidacy, in all likelihood, caused Lydia Quarles (a very fine and experience candidate) to drop out of the race. Phillips has been a prosecutor, he has represented numerous government entities, he has represented hundreds of individuals and small businesses and his experience with local business and trade groups is difficult to match. I was right about it being nearly impossible to find another candidate who had the same level of experience as Phillips. Phillips has practiced law longer than either Coleman or I have been alive. Phillips could show up at a function, throw a big case on the podium and legitimately say, “I have a trial bag that is older than my opponent.” Phillips is too classy to point this out in that manner, so the point is made here. He's created many jobs in his local area. He has held "Wills for Heroes" functions at his office where police, firemen, and EMTs could get free wills. He is widely published and revered as a lawyer in the courtroom, as an appellate attorney, as an author and on the speaker circuit. Coleman, alternatively, whose family is highly respected in his area, if elected, would be the most untested, unaccomplished lawyer to sit on the Supreme Court in anybody’s recent memory. For all practical purposes, the difference is qualifications in this race are about the same as the Randolph versus Braddock race down south. There is simply no comparison. It is impossible to overstate this point.
FOOTNOTES1 A Westlaw search was employed using the name “Dennis Coleman,” the name Mr. Coleman used until very recently, and “Josiah Coleman,” the name he currently uses. This list is more exhaustive than the one he publishes in his on-line resume.
2 Other members of Coleman’s firm specifically list their publications in their profiles; so it is presumed this is not just an oversight.
3 Other members of Coleman’s firm specific list their presentations and papers in their profiles; so it is presume this is not just an oversight.