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

Justice Court Task Force will seek citizens’ opinions
July 25, 2007

A Task Force created to study and suggest improvements for Mississippi’s Justice system will schedule six or more public hearings across the state later this year. Specific dates and locations will be announced later.

Supreme Court Justice Michael K. Randolph of Hattiesburg, chairman of the Task Force studying the Justice Court system, said Tuesday, “The issue to me in all of this is what’s in the best interest of the people.”

Justice Randolph noted that Justice Court is where the largest number of citizens will encounter the justice system. “How can we make the system better?” he said.

Rep. Willie Bailey of Greenville, a member of the Task Force, said Tuesday, “The public ought to have the opportunity to have their say. This is the people’s court. They ought to have that right.”

The 2007 Mississippi Legislature in April called for a Task Force to study the Justice Court system. The Task Force has met twice, on July 2 and again Tuesday, July 24. Additional meetings are expected. The Task Force will present its findings to the Legislature no later than Dec. 1, 2007.

The Task Force’s mandate is to study and assess:

• duties and services provided by Justice Court judges;

• training for Justice Court judges;

• salaries;

• jurisdictional limits;

• Uniform Rules of Procedure for Justice Courts;

• whether jury trials should occur in Justice Courts;

• time and manner of Justice Court elections and the feasibility of non-partisan elections.

Two meetings have produced a Task Force consensus that Justice Court judge elections should be non-partisan. Justice Court judges are now the only category of judges who run in partisan elections in Mississippi.

The majority of the state’s Justice Court judges want to switch to non-partisan elections, said Webster County Justice Court Judge Jerry Jones, a member of the Task Force.

Many Justice Court judges also favor increasing their annual training, said Amite County Justice Court Judge Roger Arnold, a member of the Task Force. “We want all the training we can possibly get,” Judge Arnold said.

Justice Court judges currently receive 32 hours of training when they are elected, then are required to attend 18 hours of continuing education classes each year. Some judges have asked to increase the requirement to 27 hours. Some judges already complete more training than required.

The Task Force is made up of nine voting members and four ex-officio members. Members are: Supreme Court Justice Michael K. Randolph of Hattiesburg, chair; Circuit Judge James T. Kitchens Jr. of Columbus, vice-chair; Amite County Justice Court Judge Roger Arnold; Marshall County Justice Court Judge Ernest Cunningham; Webster County Justice Court Judge Jerry Jones; Carroll County Circuit Clerk Durward Stanton; Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins; Warren County Court Judge John S. Price Jr.; Copiah County Supervisor Perry Hood; Sen. Terry Burton of Newton; Sen. Charlie Ross of Brandon; Rep. Willie L. Bailey of Greenville; and Rep. Thomas U. Reynolds II of Charleston.

Justice Courts have jurisdiction over small claims civil cases involving amounts of $2,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and any traffic offense that occurs outside a municipality. Justice Court judges may conduct bond hearings and preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases and may issue search warrants and arrest warrants.

There are 82 Justice Courts with 197 judges. Counties are subdivided into Justice Court districts according to population. Counties may have between two and five Justice Court judges, depending upon population.

Justice Court judges’ salaries are based on county population. State law sets 11 different pay scales for Justice Court judges. Annual salaries range from $14,400 in counties with a population less than 8,000, to $55,559 a year in counties with a population of more than 200,000.

Justice Court judges are not required to be licensed attorneys. They serve four-year terms.