Judicial Advisory Study Committee recommends adding more judges

Dec. 20, 2002

A recent study of state court districts shows an imbalance in case load and population distribution among districts and supports adding more chancery and circuit judges to some districts.

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee has submitted redistricting options to the Mississippi Legislature and the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee in a resolution recommended that the Legislature add one circuit judgeship each in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 13th, 15th and 22nd districts. The study committee also recommended that the Legislature add one chancery judgeship each in the 1st, 7th, 10th and 13th districts.

Judicial Advisory Study Committee Chairman L. F. Sams Jr. of Tupelo said, "The case load and population trends have made additional judgeships necessary."

The study committee did not recommend changing geographic boundaries of any district or reducing the number of judgeships in any district.

The makeup of the circuit court districts recommended to receive extra judgeships is:

The makeup of the chancery court districts recommended to receive extra judgeships is:

The recommendations are based on an analysis by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government of case filings, complexity of cases and population. The recommendations also take into account requests of some judges for additional judgeships in the districts. However, some judges whose districts have high case loads did not request an additional judgeship. Conversely, some districts whose judges requested an additional position are not included in the recommendation.

A ranking of districts using a weighted case load analysis showed Circuit District 22 was the busiest in the state, followed by the 13th, 3rd, 15th and 1st. The 22nd and 13th Circuit Districts now have one judge. The 3rd and 15th districts each have two judges. The 1st Circuit District has three judges.

The weighted case load assigns a numeric value to each type of criminal or civil court action, with the values increasing in proportion to the amount of time required by the court to deal with the type of action, according to the Stennis Institute report. The study is based on case filings from fiscal years 1999, 2000 and 2001. The state fiscal year ends June 30.

The Stennis Institute report noted that Circuit District 22, with one judge, has a weighted case load value that is "significantly higher" than other districts. The report said, "Detailed data from this district, which includes the counties of Claiborne, Copiah and Jefferson, reveals that in the counties of Copiah and Jefferson, the circuit court dealt with a number of mass tort cases, including a number of asbestos-related matters, during these fiscal years. Because of the time involved in litigating these cases, these case types have high multipliers, representing the significant investment of time these types of cases require of the court."

A ranking of circuit court districts purely by numbers of cases per judge shows the same districts in the top five, but in a different order. The top five, ranked by cases per judge, are the 3rd, 22nd, 13th, 15th and 1st, in that order.

The Judicial Advisory Study Committee report and recommendation noted that the statistical analysis of district case loads is not a comparison to any established standard. The committee recommendation says, "Whereas, the averages for case load and weighted case load are nothing more than that - averages. They reflect what exists at this time. This committee has no information available at this time to conclude whether the state average case load is reasonable or not. We are requesting the National Center for State Courts to assist us by providing information as to case loads in other states, especially in our sister states in the deep south."

Among chancery courts the 13th Chancery District ranks as the busiest when measured by weighted case load and by simple numbers of cases. The 13th Chancery District has one judge.

The weighted case load ranking shows that the 7th Chancery District, with two judges, ranks second. The 1st Chancery District ranks third and has three judges.

A ranking of chancery court districts purely by numbers of cases per judge shows the highest volume districts per judge, in order, are the 13th, 1st and 7th.

There are currently 49 circuit judges in 22 districts and 45 chancery judges in 20 districts. The number of judges in each circuit and chancery court district is established by state law and takes into account district population, the number of cases filed in the district, the case load of each judge in the district, the geographic area of the district, an analysis of the district needs by the court personnel of the district and any other appropriate means. The Mississippi Legislature must create redistricting plans after each decennial census. The Legislature has until Dec. 21, 2005, to act.

The estimated cost of adding one judgeship is $171,375, including the judge's salary, fringe benefits, support staff allowance, office and rent allowance and travel expenses, according to the Stennis Institute report.

Enclosed is a copy of the Judicial Advisory Study Committee Resolution, charts of case statistics and population data by district, and the John C. Stennis Institute of Government Report to the Judicial Advisory Study Committee.

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MEDIA CONTACT:   Beverly Pettigrew Kraft
Administrative Office of Courts
601-354-7452