Trial judges endorse advisory time standards

October 30, 2001

Circuit, Chancery and County Court judges who met in Jackson last week for their fall conference endorsed the Supreme Court's proposed advisory time standards for trial judges.

The Supreme Court has revised the time standards proposal that was introduced June 14. Revisions were proposed in response to comments and concerns raised by judges, attorneys and the general public during a public comment period that ended in September. The Supreme Court has not adopted a final version. Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman said he expects the Court to act on the proposal in November.

The conferences of Chancery and Circuit judges had opposed an earlier version of time standards proposed by the Supreme Court.

Lauderdale County Court Judge Frank Coleman, chair of the Conference of County Court Judges, told judges at an Oct. 25 luncheon in Jackson that the county judges endorsed the proposed time standards as they apply to County Court judges.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens, chair of the Conference of Chancery Judges, said Tuesday, "Certain changes were made. We could work with these. The Chancery judges felt it was workable in terms of the new requirements."

Circuit Judge Kathy King Jackson of Pascagoula, chair of the Conference of Circuit Court Judges, said a majority of the Circuit judges voted to support the proposed advisory time standards. But, Jackson said, "It is my opinion that until such time that each trial judge in the state has appropriate tools and resources and reliable statistics, we won't be able to endorse mandatory time standards to grade us."

Pittman noted that the time standards are advisory only. "On my watch I will not ask this conference nor the Court to endorse mandatory time standards, " Pittman told judges.

Jackson said one of her concerns is that some districts have fewer resources and heavier caseloads.

Jackson said, "We've worked very hard to have our concerns heard, and I think they did listen."

Jackson said, "These are some realistic goals that we can try to shoot for to improve the overall movement of cases. We can always improve and that's what we are trying to do - improve the way cases move through the court system. It's to our advantage. It's to the advantage of the litigants involved. We want them moved as quickly as possible."

Pittman thanked the judges' conferences for their endorsements of time standards. "I appreciate very much the Circuit, Chancery and County judges' work with our Rules Committee to make the time standards acceptable and meaningful for the court system," Pittman said.

"Obviously there are many, many cases that will not fit within the advisory time standards," Pittman said. "There are many matters that you can't just put a time measure on because you have the needs of people involved, and we haven't lost sight that we are dealing with human lives." For instance, child custody matters, estates and will probate matters are among a list of proceedings not covered by time standards.

"But within that consideration, a high priority must be timely decisions," Pittman said. "Timely decisions benefit people's lives," Pittman said.

Attached is a copy of the proposal under consideration by the Supreme Court.

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


TIME STANDARDS IN THE CHANCERY, CIRCUIT
AND COUNTY COURTS OF MISSISSIPPI

PURPOSE AND PREAMBLE

The fair and efficient administration of justice requires that controversies, civil and criminal, receive the timely attention of the courts. This requires that the judicial system achieve a disposition of cases as expeditiously as is consistent with care, fairness and sound decisions. It is the responsibility of the bench to manage the dockets of the courts.

These time standards represent aspirational goals against which to measure the actual movement of cases in the trial courts. They should not be treated as rules of court which limit the discretion of the trial courts to schedule individual cases and proceedings within individual cases. They do not supercede time periods applicable to specific cases under court rules or statute. Each case is unique and the judges of the courts must, within the bounds of the rules of court and statutes, exercise sound judgment in such a manner as to provide the parties with a fair opportunity to be heard and to allow the court to achieve a reasoned disposition. However, our justice system has grown to the point that only by observing and comparing the flow of matters in all the trial courts can we determine the special needs of each court and allocate resources to the best end.

There are many factors that determine the movement of the business of the courts, some which are within the control of the judges presiding, and some which are not. Depending on case loads, types of cases, the number of judges in a district, population, commercial activity, staffing and support, it can be expected that the parties in one county or district may find that their cases to proceed more rapidly or more slowly than in other districts or counties.

To use these benchmarks alone as a measure of the quality of a court or its judges would be to misunderstand and misapply them. Their purpose is to provide each judge and the judiciary as a whole with tools for the improvement of procedures and the allocation of resources.

Estates and will probate proceedings, guardianships, conservatorships, commitment proceedings, petitions for name change, petitions for registration of foreign judgments and uncontested adoptions are not covered by these standards.

CRIMINAL*  
  Felony 270 days from arraignment

  Misdemeanor(originating in circuit or county court) 120 days from filing
  Misdemeanor(appeals to circuit or county court) 180 days from notice of appeal
  Preliminary hearing 30 days from arrest or initial appearance
  Post trial motions 30 days from filing of post trial motion
  Sentencing 90 days from verdict or ruling on post trial motions
CIVIL*  
  General civil 18 months from filing of complaint
DOMESTIC RELATIONS*  
  Contested 1 year from filing of complaint
  Uncontested 180 days from filing of complaint
JUVENILE*  
  Detention/shelter hearings 48 hours after taking into temporary custody
exclusive of weekends and holidays
  Adjudication hearing (if in detention facility) 21 days from first detention hearing
  Adjudication hearing (if in shelter) 30 days after taking custody
  Adjudication hearing (not detained, not in
    shelter, not in protective custody)
90 days from filing of petition
  Disposition hearing 14 days following adjudication

*Except for individual cases in which the court determines by written order that exceptional circumstances exist and for which a continuing review should occur.