Dickinson sworn in as special trial judge

January 8, 2003

Supreme Court Justice-elect Jess Dickinson on Wednesday was sworn in to sit as a special circuit and chancery judge.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman issued the oath of office as special judge to Dickinson in a brief ceremony in the chief justice's office in Jackson.

Pittman said after issuing the oath, "I appreciate your willingness to work. The truth is we need you."

Dickinson said, "I'm very grateful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity."

Dickinson said the trial judge experience will help him prepare to be an appellate judge. "I'm happy for this opportunity to better prepare myself."

Supreme Court Justices James W. Smith Jr., William L. Waller Jr. and George C. Carlson Jr. noted that trial judge experience will be helpful to Dickinson.

Smith said, "There is no question it's going to be a tremendous assistance to you." Smith noted that "sitting on that hot seat as a trial judge," with its requirement for decisions in seconds, is quite different from the deliberative pace of an appellate judge's work.

Waller said, "It's a great experience and it can help us in the administration of justice."

Carlson recalled what the late chancellor Leon Hannaford told him upon his election as a circuit judge in 1982. "He said, 'Things will look different from the other side of the bench,' and he was right."

Supreme Court Justice Kay Cobb said, "We are glad to have you in this capacity and are looking forward to having you here next year."

Mississippi Bar President Donald Dornan of Biloxi said, "I have great respect for Jess. I know he will be a great asset."

Dickinson was elected in November 2002 for a Supreme Court term which will begin in January 2004. He will be sworn in then as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He will not handle any duties of a Supreme Court justice this year. Dickinson's Southern District position is one of two positions on the Supreme Court in which the election is conducted more than a year before the start of the elective term.

Dickinson will preside over cases in the circuit and chancery courts by assignment from the Supreme Court through December. He will be paid the salary and expenses of a circuit or chancery court judge, based on the number of days he hears cases.

Special judges hear cases such as those in which the local trial judge has some conflict, cases in which the local trial judge is ill, or cases in which a district has a backlog.

Dickinson is expected to hear cases first in Circuit Courts in Forrest and Perry counties.

Pittman said, "We will send him wherever we need him." Pittman said, "Probably his first assignment will be in Forrest County because Judge Robert Helfrich has been calling for assistance."

Helfrich, a newly elected circuit judge and former assistant district attorney, is expected to recuse himself from hearing some criminal cases which were initiated while he was a prosecutor.