Chief Justice Pittman says Code of Conduct revisions intended to deter influence

November 9, 2001

Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman on Friday said proposed revisions to the Code of Judicial Conduct are intended to insulate judges from any attempts to influence their decisions.

Provisions proposed by the Supreme Court on Oct. 25 include a requirement for trial and appellate judges to step aside from cases in which attorneys or parties are major campaign contributors. Another recusal provision would allow litigants to reject the trial judge assigned to a case without stating a reason.

Pittman in a meeting with the Study Commission on the Mississippi Judicial System in Jackson on Friday said, "What we are looking for are ideas that protect the judiciary. What we need to do is make sure judges have an appropriate environment to study and meditate. We don't want to interfere with the philosophies the judges bring to the table. We want to give them room to think."

Campaign contributions have been among the topics discussed by the Study Commission. The Commission was created by the 2001 Legislature to recommend improvements for the court system. The Commission in a few weeks is expected to make recommendations involving judicial selection, revisions to judicial election statutes, judicial salaries, Justice Courts and management of cases.

Commission Chairman Carroll Ingram of Hattiesburg on Friday scheduled Commission meetings for Nov. 30 and Dec. 14 in Jackson to discuss and draft recommendations to the Legislature.

Pittman said, "I'm pleased with the fact that we do have an aggressive ongoing review."

The Code of Judicial Conduct recusal proposal tied to campaign contributions would require Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges to step aside from hearing cases involving a lawyer or litigant who has contributed more than $2,000 in the judge's most recent election campaign. Trial judges would be required to step aside from hearing cases in which a lawyer or litigant has contributed more than $1,000 to the judge's campaign.

The recusal proposal that would allow a litigant to ask that the case be assigned to a different judge is modeled upon a similar provision used in California. It is called a peremptory recusal provision and is similar to a peremptory challenge to jurors.

Pittman and Justice Kay Cobb said California court officials have found that the recusal provision works well overall. Pittman said that the main complaint that he heard of the California recusal provision is that some prosecutors over-used it.

Proposed revisions to the Code of Judicial conduct also set up an election committee to respond quickly to allegations of judicial campaign improprieties. Other proposed revisions to the canons address political activities of judges, timely handling of cases, discrimination and sexual harassment. The entire code has been rewritten to make all references gender-neutral.

Pittman invited public comment on the proposed revisions. Comments should be made in writing to: Clerk of the Supreme Court, P.O. Box 249, Jackson, MS 39205.

A copy of the proposed revisions is available on the Supreme Court's web site, courts.ms.gov. Click on the NEWS icon.

For more information, contact court Public Information Officer Beverly Pettigrew Kraft at 601-354-7452 or at bkraft@courts.ms.gov.