Public hearing on gender fairness in courts set for Thursday in Jackson

March 19, 2002

Administrative Office of Courts

The Supreme Court's Task Force on Gender Fairness will conduct the first of three public hearings on Thursday, March 21, in Jackson. The hearing is scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Mississippi Bar Center at 643 North State Street.

The public is invited. Anyone who wishes to speak about personal experiences and observations related to gender issues in the courts will be afforded an opportunity. Speakers are asked to keep presentations short and focus on gender fairness issues.

Task Force Honorary Chair Evelyn Gandy said, "The Task Force members are extremely anxious to hear from those in the public who have had experiences with the judicial system. Their comments will be helpful in strengthening the system for equal justice for all. If you have had an experience pro or con or neutral, we would like to hear from you."

Information gathered at the public hearings will be used to help formulate recommendations to address gender bias.

The Task Force, created by the Supreme Court in 1998, previously conducted surveys of attorneys, court staff and members of the judiciary. Those surveys showed that a perception of gender bias lingers in Mississippi state courts.

Former Circuit Judge Robert Gibbs will serve as moderator for a panel discussion and the public comment period.

Gibbs said increasing numbers of women are judges, attorneys and jurors.

Mississippi Bar statistics show that about 21 percent of the lawyers licensed to practice in Mississippi are women. Twenty-five of 137 state court judges - 18 percent - are women, according to the Administrative Office of Courts. That includes trial and appellate court judges.

Gibbs said, "Fairness in the courts is of paramount importance. Anyone who feels that women should be treated fairly in the court system should come and let us hear their comments to help us do a better job of making sure there is fairness in the courtrooms."

Task Force Co-Chair Amy Whitten said, "I think hearings like this serve a wonderful tool in educating the public about the courts and at the same time educating those of us who work with the courts about people's perceptions and their experiences. In many ways it's a chance for users of the court system to express their opinion about how it works."

Whitten said, "These hearings are focusing on gender. They are also focusing on the basic fairness of the system as it responds to many different people and a lot of changing demographics. I hope we gain from these hearings a better insight into the effectiveness of the courts in handling a lot of issues that involve diversity."

Other public hearing dates and locations are:

The Task Force on Gender Fairness will accept written submissions at the hearings or via mail. The survey is available on the Supreme Court's web site, www.mssc.state.ms.us. Go to the News button. Survey forms may be printed and mailed to the Administrative Office of Courts at the address indicated on the survey.

For more information, contact Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, court public information officer and task force member, at 601-354-7452.