Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Study Committee calls for rule to expedite trial court decisions

June 7, 2002

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee on Friday recommended that the Mississippi Supreme Court adopt a rule that would automatically identify cases pending before a trial court judge for six months without a ruling.

The existing Rule 15 of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure allows parties on either side of a civil case to petition the Mississippi Supreme Court to order a lower court judge to issue a ruling if a case is pending for more than six months without a decision. The procedure is called an application for a writ of mandamus. It applies to motions or other proceedings which would resolve a civil case.

Under the current Rule 15, it's up to the attorneys to file the petition with the Supreme Court. However, parties in litigation are reluctant to file a petition for a writ of mandamus to force action by a trial judge, said retired Chancery Judge Robert Oswald of Pascagoula, vice-chair of the Judicial Advisory Study Committee. The proposal suggested by the Study Committee would revise Rule 15.

The Study Committee at a meeting in Jackson on Friday approved a proposal that calls for the Administrative Office of Courts to notify the Supreme Court of civil cases taken under advisement by trial court judges after six months have passed without a ruling from the trial court. The proposal calls for the Supreme Court to treat the notification from AOC as an application for a writ of mandamus. The proposal calls for the Supreme Court to notify the Commission on Judicial Performance, the judicial watchdog, of each mandamus it issues. The proposal also would allow trial judges to apply to the Supreme Court for additional time.

Oswald, who drafted the proposed rule, said, "It would eliminate the need of either party to request a writ of mandamus and run the risk of incurring the wrath of the judge."

Oswald recalled a judge who had 55 cases awaiting decisions when he lost a reelection bid. Some of the cases were three years old.

Oswald said, "That's just wrong and it should not exist and it doesn't have to."

Mississippi Bar President W.C. "Cham" Trotter of Belzoni agreed that a rule is needed to address lagging decisions.

"This will solve the isolated incidents," Trotter said. "This rule takes the pressure off the lawyers. It's beneficial to the lawyers' clients."

Trotter said the proposal will be presented to the Board of Bar Commissioners on June 25. "I would anticipate approval," Trotter said.

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee was created by the Legislature in 1993. The 23-member committee includes judges, lawyers, court personnel, legislators and lay persons. Its mission is to study the judicial system and make policy recommendations for improving the judicial system.