Chief Justice Pittman creates task force for impartial justice

November 26, 2002

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman today announced creation of a task force to formulate and recommend to the Legislature a Constitutional Amendment which would change the method by which Mississippi selects judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Pittman will discuss creation of the Impartial Justice Task Force and answer questions during a news conference at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, in his office in the Gartin Justice Building, located at 450 High Street in Jackson.

The Impartial Justice Task Force will meet at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at the Mississippi Bar Center at 643 North State Street.

Pittman favors changing to an appointive system for appellate judges. Changing to an appointive system would require voter approval of a Constitutional Amendment.

Pittman has asked the task force to draft recommendations and a proposed Constitutional Amendment to submit to the Legislature. He noted, however, that not all of those who have agreed to serve on the task force support an appointive system.

Pittman said his goal is to shield the judiciary from influence.

Pittman in a letter inviting participation in the task force said, "The political election of appellate judges has a strong tendency to destroy the impartiality of judges. Elections where hundreds of thousands of dollars are collected by candidates and where organized special interest groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting their interests strongly counteracts the public's interest."

When special interests line up behind candidates, Pittman said, "It doesn't matter which side wins. The impartiality which each citizen deserves, loses."

Direct contributions to the three candidates for one contested Supreme Court seat in the just concluded 2002 election totaled $1,683,491 as of the filing of the 48-Hour Reports submitted to the Secretary of State's office. The winning candidate received $952,953.46 in contributions. That's more than the salary that an associate justice of the Supreme Court will earn in eight years on the court, at the current annual salary of $102,300.

The previous record was set in the 2000 election in the same district. Three Supreme Court candidates raised $1,570,667.

The figures do not take into account soft money expenditures.

Judges who have agreed to serve on the task force include Court of Appeals Chief Judge Roger H. McMillin Jr. of New Albany, Court of Appeals Judge Leslie D. King of Greenville, and former Supreme Court Justices Reuben V. Anderson and Fred L. Banks Jr., both of Jackson.

Political party representatives include attorney and Mississippi Republican Party Chairman James H. Herring of Canton and Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Ricky Cole of Jackson. Attorneys on the task force include David Baria of Jackson; Robert A. Biggs III of Jackson; District Attorney Frank Carlton of Greenville; David W. Clark of Jackson; Robert H. Compton of Meridian; Melvin G. Cooper of Biloxi; Lawrence J. Franck of Jackson; Thomas D. McNeese of Columbia; Sherman L. Muths Jr. of Gulfport; Richard G. Noble of Indianola; Peyton D. Prospere of Jackson, representing the governor's office; Richard C. Roberts III of Jackson; and Amy D. Whitten of Jackson. Other members may be added later.