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

Supreme Court clears case backlog

July 1, 2004

The Mississippi Supreme Court today cleared the backlog of direct appeal cases awaiting decisions.

Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. when he took over as administrative head of the court on April 1 made eliminating the backlog one of his goals, and he set a target date of July.

Today, Chief Justice Smith said, "This court is current."

Chief Justice Smith said, "The mission of the court is deciding cases properly and timely."

"I knew this court could accomplish this goal if everybody worked together," Chief Justice Smith said. "This is a combined effort of all members of the court and our staff. It takes all eight of us working together. Everybody has had to work together to help each other. This court is congenial. Everybody gets along. This is a young, hard-working, vibrant court."

Mississippi Code Section 9-4-3, adopted in 1993 with the creation of the Court of Appeals, says that the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals shall decide appeals within 270 days after the final briefs have been filed.

Chief Justice Smith said that since he joined the Supreme Court in 1993, the Supreme Court has always had some cases outside the 270-day limit. He made compliance a priority when he became chief justice.

"We enforce the rules," he said.

Forty-one cases awaiting decisions on the merits were beyond the 270-day mark on April 1. Today, one case is outside the 270-day period. It has not been decided because it is a case awaiting orders from the Governor appointing two special judges to complete a quorum of five. Three justices are available to hear the case. Five justices recused themselves, and one is not participating in any court business.

Chief Justice Smith said that he has now turned his attention to appeals known as petitions for certiorari, which are requests for review of decisions from the Court of Appeals. He said he expects to have those petitions current by the end of July.

Acceptance of certiorari review is discretionary. If the Supreme Court refuses to hear an appeal on petition for certiorari, the Court of Appeals decision stands. The Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure require the Supreme Court to decide whether to grant review within 90 days of the filing of a response to the petition for certiorari. If the Supreme Court accepts a certiorari petition, state law says the case shall be decided within 180 days of the filing of the final brief.

The Supreme Court has granted itself extensions beyond the 90-day rule in 35 pending petitions for certiorari. The court's docket now includes 85 pending certiorari petitions.

Chief Justice Smith said he made temporary changes in the court's operating procedures to get overdue cases decided. He has suggested permanent internal rule changes to facilitate quicker decisions.

"I will then address the approximately 5,800-plus per year motions docket and make similar changes there and bring that docket current," Chief Justice Smith said.

"I'm looking at everything about this court that I think doesn't work and I'm trying to change it," Chief Justice Smith said. "I've sought advice from court administration and other judges and I'm trying to implement changes that will work."