Chief Justice Smith says another goal met in push for timeliness

October 15, 2004

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. on Friday announced that the court has speeded up the way it handles its voluminous motions docket and reached his goal of deciding motions within 30 days.

Chief Justice Smith announced when he became Chief Justice April 1 that ridding the court of the case backlog and delivering timely decisions were priorities. Clearing the backlog on the motions docket is the third phase. The court has already caught up on decisions on the merits of direct appeals and petitions for certiorari, which is the discretionary review of decisions of the Court of Appeals.

Speaking to the Justice Court Judges Conference in Jackson on Friday, Chief Justice Smith said, “I can stand in front of you today and tell you the Supreme Court is current. We have met every deadline since July 1, and I don’t intend for that to change.”

“The good thing about that is I have a unanimous court supporting me,” he said. “I am extremely proud of the judges and the staff of the court for the effort that it has taken to accomplish this.”

“The main purpose of the court is to decide cases timely and to write with intellectual honesty,” said Chief Justice Smith. “It’s not just speedy resolution. You have to get it right.”

In addition to appeals on the merits and certiorari review, the Supreme Court receives an average of 5,800 motions a year. They include, among other things, motions for post-conviction relief in criminal cases, mandamus petitions which seek to compel a particular action by a trial court, interlocutory appeals of matters pending in the trial courts, as well as numerous motions dealing with filing deadlines and the length of briefs.

On January 1, motions pending before the court for decision numbered 591. On Thursday, Oct. 14, there were 201. All of these are within a 30-day turnaround for decision. Court staff noted that is the lowest number of pending, unresolved matters in more than 10 years.

No law or court rule sets a time frame for deciding motions. Chief Justice Smith has set a goal for resolution of each within 30 days of filing. Under his direction, motion panels of three judges meet at least weekly, and as frequently as needed. Motions which may be handled by a single judge may be addressed within one to five days.

State statutes and court rules require direct appeal cases on the merits to be decided within 270 days of filing of the last brief. Rules require the Supreme Court to decide whether to grant certiorari review within 90 days. Cases accepted must be decided within 180 days.

Timeliness improves public confidence in the judicial system, Chief Justice Smith said. “It’s important for the litigants, it’s important for the lawyers and trial judges, and for the public that they understand that the court is focused on the business at hand,” he said.

Chief Justice Smith asked for the Justice Court judges’ help in improving the judicial system. He said that more people experience the justice system in Justice Court than at any other level of the system.

“You folks in this room are the most important link in the judiciary in this state. Ninety-nine percent of the public forms an impression of the judiciary when they come into contact with the Justice Court system,” Chief Justice Smith said.

“I want you to join with me in a commitment to change the image of the judiciary in the state of Mississippi,” he said.