Pittman discusses judicial legislation in Brookhaven

March 27, 2002

Administrative Office of Courts

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman on Wednesday told a Brookhaven civic club that he favors proposed legislation which would abolish special elections for trial court judges and extend trial judges' terms to six years.

Justice Pittman, speaking to about 35 members of the Brookhaven Kiwanis Club and their guests, said the proposed legislation would reduce the amount of money raised in judicial campaigning by reducing the number of times that judges must seek election.

"I am for an elected judiciary," Pittman said. "The people in this state believe in it. It's in the Constitution."

But Pittman said there are benefits to having fewer elections.

Pittman said candidates are forced to raise large amounts of money to campaign for short terms after a judicial vacancy occurs, then campaign and raise money again within as short a period as two years. Pittman noted that his own first judicial election in 1988 cost about $33,000, and his re-election in 1996 cost nearly 10 times that much -- almost $300,000. Pittman said another justice's 2000 race cost more than $900,000. Pittman said much of that campaign spending was targeted to just get voters to go to the polls in a runoff election. Pittman said low voter turnout continues to be a concern.

Pittman said reducing the number of elections would allow for a mix of appointed and elected judges and would let judges spend more time doing judicial work and less time campaigning and raising money.

Pittman said, "One way to reduce the amount of money in judicial campaigns is to say if you get appointed , you can finish the term."

The Supreme Court, which has eight-year terms, has four justices who got to the court by appointment and five who were elected. Two of the appointees later won election.

Pittman said, "Why not have the ability to swing back and forth, sometimes with a majority appointed, sometimes with a majority elected?"

Pittman was discussing Senate Bill 2289, Senate Bill 2606 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 543. Senate Bill 2289 deals with gubernatorial appointments of judges to fill vacancies. House and Senate conferees are expected to work out differences including whether to require Senate confirmation and whether to still require a special election in some instances, depending upon how much of the unexpired term remains.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has signed Senate Bill 2606, which would extend chancery, circuit and county court judges' terms to six years. The bill signed by the governor would be effective in the November election for judges who would take office in January 2003.

Senate Bill 2606 addresses statutory authority to change judges' terms. Changing the terms of trial judges also requires a constitutional amendment with legislative approval and a vote by the people. Senate Concurrent Resolution 543, the proposed constitutional amendment, is before a House and Senate conference committee to work out differences in the effective date. The Senate version called for the change to be effective as of the November election. The House version called for an effective date of January 2007.

Pittman would like to see longer terms effective in the November election."If you vote to change it, why in the world would you want to wait until 2007 to make it effective?" he said.

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