Justice Court Judges increase voluntary continuing education

August 16, 2001

The Mississippi Justice Court Judges Association has voted to nearly double continuing education classes offered through a voluntary certification program for judges.

The existing voluntary certification program had called for 54 hours of continuing education credit spread over a period of three years. The association during its annual conference in Biloxi on July 18 voted to increase the offering to 100 hours, said Harrison County Justice Court Judge Bruce Strong, a member of the association's board of directors.

Strong, who helps coordinate the training conferences, said, "We felt like we needed it. The judges want it. It's all volunteer."

Bolivar County Justice Court Judge James Strait, president of the Justice Court Judges Association, said the membership increased its voluntary training because "the better educated and better informed you are, the better you can serve your constituency and your public."

"What we have been fighting for in the Legislature is more education," Strait said. "We get one week. I've been trying to get that extended and make it mandatory."

Mississippi law requires Justice Court judges to receive a basic 32-hour course after being elected to the bench, plus 18 hours of continuing education each year. The courses are put on by the Mississippi Judicial College.

The voluntary certification program, which went from 54 up to 100 hours, is done through the Mississippi Judicial College and the American Institute for Justice. Judges can get up to 24 hours of extra, voluntary continuing education credit per year under the existing class schedule, said Leslie Johnson, director of the Mississippi Judicial College.

The 54-hour certification program was adopted three years ago. Some judges will complete the program this year, Johnson said. The 100-hour program could take four years for completion - the length of a justice court judge's term.

Strait said extra training helps keep judges up to date on changes in the law and courtroom procedures. "It's steadily refreshing your mind. You never know everything," Strait said.

The decision to increase the continuing education hours was made during the July 15-19 Justice Court Judges Summer Convention in Biloxi. More than 100 Justice Court judges met in Biloxi for training on courtroom evidence. Participation in the program, Evidence for the New Millennium, was voluntary. The program, which provided up to 12 hours of continuing education credit, was not part of the required curriculum for annual continuing education credit for Justice Court judges, Johnson said.

Instructors for the July session were Johnson, Forrest County Judge Mike McPhail and retired Arkansas Chancellor John Lineberger.

The six-hour voluntary program in the spring dealt with laws governing driving under the influence of alcohol.

Johnson said, "We had an opportunity to intensively go into the DUI trial and look into all aspects of it."

The mandatory continuing education classes are presented in two nine-hour segments in April and October. Additional hours of voluntary continuing education classes are added to the spring and fall sessions. The entire summer conference curriculum is voluntary.

For more information, contact Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, public information officer, at 601-354-7452.

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