Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Chief Justice Smith says he will work to restore public confidence in the judiciary

April 12, 2004

Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. at his investiture on Monday said he will work to restore public confidence in the judicial system by improving the speed and efficiency with which decisions are rendered at all levels and by pushing for appointed appellate judges.

"Restoring credibility and public confidence demands a major change in our court system. The job starts at the top and works down. The buck stops with me and this court and we must set the example for the rest of the bench and bar," Chief Justice Smith said.

Gov. Haley Barbour said it's crucial for the leader of the court to be a person of integrity. "In Justice Smith we have a Chief Justice who is the personification of that well-deserved reputation for integrity," Gov. Barbour said.

Gov. Barbour said, "He has been a tremendous proponent of and will be a leader for judicial performance and efficiency."

Chief Justice Smith, speaking in the old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol, outlined his plans as the chief administrative officer of the state court system. They include:

• Function with intellectual honesty. Focus on timely decisions and eliminate the backlog of cases before the Supreme Court. Continue to make rule changes that improve the functioning of the judiciary;
• Address the bar's concerns for civil case docket management in the trial courts;
• Focus on restoring integrity to the judiciary. Eliminate division with the trial courts. Reestablish a bench-bar liaison committee;
• Shorten the appeal process, including the possibility of using informal appeals;
• Pursue legislation in 2005 to make appellate judges appointed, a move which will remove money from judicial campaigns.

During the 2005 legislative session, "I will make a valid attempt to remove money once and for all from the judiciary of the state of Mississippi," Chief Justice Smith said.

Chief Justice Smith said his judicial philosophy is that of a strict constructionist. "The court majority is of like mind, composed of conservative, rather than activist judges....We do not legislate; instead, we practice judicial restraint in writing opinions. We respect the separation of powers between the three branches of government. We choose not to encroach upon the authority of the executive or legislative branches and their functions. However, we will maintain control over the judicial branch and its role in a federalist, democratic government. We will not cede our responsibility or authority to others."

Chief Justice Smith said change is necessary to address problems plaguing the courts. He doesn't expect changes to be made without some disagreement. He said his predecessor, Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman, endured three years of personal attacks as a result of changes made by the majority of the court under his leadership.

"I, too, expect to be a lightning rod. I will not shy nor run from my responsibility and this challenge," Chief Justice Smith said. "Through God's grace and hard work I have always overcome earthly obstacles and I will succeed in this endeavor also. I've often heard it said that anything worthwhile in life never comes cheap or easy."

"This court has drawn a line in the sand and refused to bend in the face of a tremendous assault against us all," Chief Justice Smith said.

Chief Justice Smith said the legal system needs heroes of the order of President James Madison, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Atticus Finch character from To Kill a Mockingbird.

"Where are the capable, honest judges and lawyers who pursue the law as a life that demands wise judgment and integrity? There are many here in this very room, but most remain a soft spoken, silent majority. I intend to awaken this sleeping giant. Our legal system must improve and I intend to see that it will through honorable, hardworking quality leadership which produces results. Give back the Atticus Finches to this noble profession. I intend to motivate this group of lawyers and judges to take back the bar and restore its image so that the people will again trust and believe in their judicial system," Chief Justice Smith said.

"Our courts are the great levelers," Chief Justice Smith said. "I will see to it that this court is indeed the great leveler."

Justice George C. Carlson Jr. said, "Jim Smith believes, just as Atticus Finch did, in the rule of law, no matter how unpopular."

Justice Carlson said, "He is a man possessed of high ethical standards, indeed a man of high integrity."

Gov. Barbour called Smith "a Christian gentleman who lives his convictions....I am very glad I can be here today for a chief justice who is a strong religious man and I can stand here and tell you that that is good."

Mississippi Bar President Richard Roberts described Chief Justice Smith as a man of faith, integrity and hard work who will instill public confidence in the judicial system.

"In both adversity and prosperity, he has been true to his Christian faith," Roberts said. "He is a tireless worker. He just believes in hard work. He demands it of himself and he inspires it among those around him....Chief Justice Smith is a man of integrity. He is ideally suited by that defining characteristic to be our chief justice."

Roberts said, "We don't want judges who favor one group over another group. We must know that justice in our state is not for sale....Chief Justice Jim Smith is a man to carry that message to our state."

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck praised Chief Justice Smith for his "integrity, honor and evenhanded application of the law." Tuck said, "Chief Justice Smith has devoted his life to law and order. Chief Justice Smith has worked to preserve our communities and to make our streets safe."

Tuck said, "The Chief Justice is the face and the voice of this court in many, many ways....I can think of no better person at this time in our state's history" to lead the court.