Supreme Court sends Code of Judicial Conduct proposal to trial judges

February 8, 2002

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Friday sent a revised proposal to amend the Code of Judicial Conduct to the conferences of chancery, circuit and county court judges for comment.

The 45-day comment period will end March 25. The Supreme Court will then consider and vote on revisions to the Code.

The proposal filed on Friday differs from a version proposed by the Supreme Court on Oct. 25, 2001.

A peremptory recusal provision no longer appears in the proposed revision. Peremptory recusal language included in the Oct. 25 proposal, since withdrawn, would have allowed a party to ask for a case to be assigned to a different trial judge without stating a reason.

Language addressing recusal of judges from hearing cases involving major donors to their campaigns has also changed. The proposal says, "A party may file a motion to recuse a judge based on the fact that an opposing party or counsel of record for that party is a major donor to the election campaign of such judge. Such motions will be filed, considered and subject to appellate review as provided for other motions for recusal." The earlier language, now withdrawn, would have made recusal mandatory.

The proposed code's definition of a "major donor" is unchanged. The proposal says, "A 'major donor' is a donor who or which has, in the judge's most recent election campaign, made a contribution to the judge's campaign of (a) more than $2,000 if the judge is a justice of the Supreme Court or judge of the Court of Appeals, or (b) more than $1,000 if the judge is a judge of a court other than the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals."

Unchanged is a proposal to place limitations on the time period for accepting campaign contributions. The proposal says, "A candidate's committees shall not solicit or accept contributions and public support for the candidate's campaign earlier than 60 days before the qualifying deadline or later than 120 days after the last election in which the candidate participates during the election year."

The proposal retains a provision to set up a five-member judicial election trouble-shooting team to address allegations of campaign misconduct. Under the language of the proposal, if the special committee finds evidence of some campaigning impropriety, it may issue a confidential cease-and-desist request to the candidate. The proposed canon states that if a cease-and-desist request is disregarded or if unethical or unfair campaign practices continue, the committee may issue a public statement about violations believed to exist.

The proposal, like the earlier version, would prohibit bias or prejudice "based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status." The proposal says judges must also prohibit such conduct by staff, court officials or lawyers appearing before the court. Also unchanged is language which would prohibit judges from having membership in "any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin."

For more information, contact court Public Information Officer Beverly Pettigrew Kraft at 601-354-7452.