Article byPosted Featured AuthorMarch 2019
In November 2018, Judge Kenny Griffis learned he was to become Chief Judge of the Mississippi Court of Appeals. After sixteen years on the Court of Appeals, the appointment was no surprise. The role, however, was to be short lived—but don’t feel too bad for Griffis. Because the next month, Griffis joined to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
A native of Meridian, Mississippi, Griffis began his journey to our highest state court at the University of Mississippi. There, he earned both his accounting and law degrees. But it was during law school that Griffis became interested in the judiciary. Specifically, Griffis gravitated towards the appellate courts, intrigued by their role as final arbiters of law. But at the time, only the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals offered appellate roles. That changed in 1994. That year, the Mississippi Legislature created the Mississippi Court of Appeals to relieve a backlog of cases. Griffis took note, following the new court’s progression throughout his time in private practice. In 2002, Griffis decided it was time to stop following; that year, he ran for and won the District 3, Position 2 slot on the Court of Appeals.
Griffis served there for sixteen years. That lengthy service led to Griffis’s interest in the Mississippi Supreme Court, a court of more finality and higher stakes. While the Supreme Court, like the Court of Appeals, has an error-correction element, it also reviews Court of Appeals decisions, interlocutory appeals, and certified questions from federal courts. These differences appealed to Griffis and made his recent change of scenery a welcomed one.
But despite the change, Griffis’s primary goal remains the same: making the right decision. We lawyers try to facilitate that goal. Whether or not we always do so successfully… that’s another story. Thankfully, Griffis has a few suggestions for us. As a judge, Griffis considers himself a professional reader first, and a professional writer second. Keeping this in mind, Griffis encourages lawyers to be confident in their work. Confidence, according to Griffis, breeds brevity. In briefs, Griffis suggests lawyers move away from formalistic writing and get to the meat of the matter early on. Narrow down to your best authorities, and put them up front. Overall, help the Court understand the decision it needs to make.
Oral argument is no different. Griffis encourages lawyers to view oral argument as another chance to help the Court understand the issue and correctly decide the case. If you request oral argument, come prepared, get to the point, and don’t feel pressured to use the entire allotted time simply because it’s there. Respond appropriately to questions. And look for clues: Griffis noted that each question has a purpose, whether to help the lawyer, convince another judge on an issue, or resolve the questioning judge’s concern.
To prepare for your appellate appearance, Griffis suggests turning to—wait for it—the Internet. After narrowing your best authorities, collect whatever information you can about them—pleadings, briefing, opinions, and oral argument recordings. Whether good or bad, you can learn from both. Make sure to include the Mississippi Supreme Court’s website1 in your information search. The Court’s website is a wealth of information and home to Mississippi Electronic Courts. Likewise, pay a visit to the Mississippi College School of Law’s Judicial Data Project.2 It contains archives of Mississippi appellate opinions, briefs, and oral arguments.3
When he’s not at the Court (or addressing my young-lawyer fears disguised as interview questions), Griffis is likely found at a nearby athletic event. Griffis and his wife of twenty-two years, Mary Helen, are the proud parents of five boys. Griffis has served as a youth Sunday School teacher, a Cub Scout leader, and a coach for over 80 youth sports teams, including baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey. Griffis and his family live in Ridgeland and attend Christ United Methodist Church.