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

Study Committee endorses 6-year terms for trial judges

September 13, 2002

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee, created by the Legislature to recommend improvements for the justice system, reaffirmed its recommendation of longer terms for trial judges.

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee last week adopted a resolution supporting the constitutional amendment which would increase chancery and circuit judges' terms to six years. The constitutional amendment appears on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

The resolution, signed on Sept. 6 by Judicial Advisory Study Committee Chairman L. F. Sams Jr., a Tupelo attorney, says:

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee wishes to reaffirm its commitment to the establishment of longer terms for trial court judges.

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee was established by the Mississippi Legislature in 1993 to engage in comprehensive study of the judicial system and make policy recommendations for improving the administration of justice.

The Study Committee in its recommendations to the Legislature in January 2001 called for longer terms for trial court judges. The Study Committee's recommendation was eight-year terms. However, the committee supports the six-year terms which received the approval of the 2002 Legislature. The six-year term provision outlined in a proposed constitutional amendment now awaits the vote of the people on Nov. 5.

Six-year terms preserve voters' right to have a voice in the selection of members of the judiciary.

Increasing the terms of trial judges would promote judicial independence. Reducing the number of elections would reduce the frequency with which judges have need of campaign contributions, thereby reducing the possibility that campaign contributions could influence a decision by a member of the judiciary.

Reducing the number of judicial elections would promote judicial efficiency. Judges would spend more time tending to judicial duties and less time campaigning.

There is historical precedent for six-year terms. Chancery judges were elected for six-year terms starting in 1832 - a practice which continued until 1868. Circuit Court judges were appointed by the governor with consent of the Senate for six-year terms starting in 1868 and continuing until 1890.

Wherefor, be it resolved that the Judicial Advisory Study Committee by way of this resolution encourages voters to support the proposed constitutional amendment for six-year terms for Chancery Court and Circuit Court judges.

Robert Oswald of Pascagoula, a retired chancery judge and vice-chair of the Judicial Advisory Study Committee, said, "The idea of having longer terms for trial judges is not unique to Mississippi. Quite a number of states have terms longer than four years."

Oswald said the idea of longer terms for trial judges first surfaced at a brainstorming session of bar leaders in the early 1980s. "We just had to stick with it and hope that one day enough members of the legislature would respond to it favorably," Oswald said.

That legislative approval came this year. It is now up to the voters.