Chancellor Jacqueline Mask of Tupelo is this year’s recipient of the Chief Justice Award. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph will present the award today, July 16, at the Mississippi Bar Convention.
The annual award recognizes individuals whose actions significantly impact the law, the administration of justice, and the people of the State of Mississippi.
Chief Justice Randolph selected Judge Mask in recognition of her leadership that has improved access to justice for the poor. Judge Mask became Co-chair of the Access to Justice Commission in 2016, two years after the Supreme Court appointed her as a member of the Commission.
The plaque which Chief Justice Randolph presented to Judge Mask reads, in part: “Your tireless energy and dedication to assist the poor has improved access to justice for all. You have exceeded every standard by which all judges are measured.”
In 2015, Judge Mask began scheduling a free legal clinic in every courthouse in the eight counties of the First Chancery District in north Mississippi. Judge Mask encouraged lawyers in each county to donate their time. In conjunction with the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, the University of Mississippi School of Law Pro Bono Initiative and local bar leaders, she has led the charge to provide legal assistance to low income people in family law matters such as divorce, child support, guardianship, emancipation and name change.
Judge Mask recognized the urgent civil legal needs of poor people across the state. With the support of the Mississippi Supreme Court and a work force of volunteer lawyers, free legal clinics were held in all 20 Chancery Court districts across the state in 2018. Legal clinics were held statewide again in 2019. The pandemic forced in-person free legal clinics to be curtailed in 2020, so the Access to Justice Commission helped provide virtual clinics and helped produce a series of informational videos for self-represented litigants.
In recognition of the extraordinary efforts to improve civil legal services, the American Bar Association in June 2019 named the Mississippi Bar as the recipient of the 2019 Harrison Tweed Award. In 2020, the Access to Justice Commission and the Mississippi Bar received the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award from the ABA for their efforts to provide free family law clinics statewide. Judge Mask has been a key leader in this effort.
Judge Mask is the senior chancellor of the First Chancery District, which includes Alcorn, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Prentiss, Pontotoc, Tishomingo and Union counties. She has served as a chancellor since January 1999. She served as vice-chair, then chair of the Conference of Chancery Judges.
She was in private law practice for 16 years before she was elected to the bench. She served for 15 years as a Youth Court public defender. She is a 1979 graduate of Mississippi University for Women. She earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law, and was admitted to the practice of law in 1982.