Supreme Court and Court of Appeals endorse six-year terms for trial judges

September 17, 2002

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Tuesday announced that it has unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing the Constitutional amendment which would create six-year terms for chancery and circuit judges.

The Court of Appeals also adopted a resolution supporting six-year terms for trial judges.

Mississippi voters will decide Nov. 5 whether to lengthen trial judges' terms to six years. A Constitutional amendment which proposes to change chancery and circuit judges' terms will appear on the ballot.

Chancery, circuit and county judges' terms are now four years. County judges' terms, although not referenced in the Constitution, are by statute the same length as those of chancery and circuit judges.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman said, "I hope that the endorsement of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals will begin a strong movement for the adoption of the Constitutional amendment in November."

Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Leslie D. King said six-year terms for trial judges "represent an opportunity for judges to spend more time doing that which they are elected to do, and that is judging, and less time on campaigning, and still maintain the people's right to select their judges. In the long run, the more time that judges spend doing their duty, and that is judging, the better the judicial system will be."

The six-year term amendment, Senate Concurrent Resolution 543, was approved by the Legislature in April and precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice in July.

The proposed Constitutional amendment has the support of the Conference of Chancery Judges and the Conference of Circuit Judges as well as the support of the leadership of the Mississippi Bar and the Magnolia Bar. The Judicial Advisory Study Committee, which originally proposed eight-year terms for trial judges in a recommendation to the Legislature in January 2001, adopted a resolution Sept. 6 affirming its support for six-year terms.

Magnolia Bar president Melvin Cooper of Biloxi said, "Hopefully it would attract a better quality of judicial candidate, based on the duration of office."

Cooper noted that some judges have left the bench to return to private practice because judicial salaries are below what lawyers may earn in private practice. "The salary is not attractive. At least the duration is attractive," Cooper said.

Mississippi Bar President Donald Dornan of Biloxi in a recent letter to bar membership cited the six-year term amendment as a way to improve the judicial system. Dornan cited these reasons:

  • Increasing term lengths of trial judges will promote judicial independence.
  • A majority of other states have similar term lengths.
  • Reducing the number of elections will promote judicial efficiency.
  • Longer terms may attract highly qualified candidates to public service.
  • Longer terms may foster diversity by creating opportunities for appointment.