Supreme Court calls for domestic abuse study

May 30, 2008

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered a comprehensive study of laws and rules related to domestic abuse.

The Supreme Court, acting on a request from the Mississippi Attorney General, created the Commission for Study of Domestic Abuse Proceedings. Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. signed the order on May 21. The Commission is expected to submit a report to the Court by Dec. 1.

Chief Justice Smith said, “In establishing this Commission, the Court continues to be pro- active in addressing the concerns and interests of affected people, constantly striving to improve the administration and access to justice for all our citizens.”

Supreme Court Justice Ann H. Lamar of Senatobia and Special Assistant Attorney Heather Wagner of Jackson will serve as co-chairs of the 23-member Commission.

Justice Lamar said, “The purpose of this Commission is to undertake a comprehensive study of statutes and rules relating to domestic violence issues and to identify and address needed changes. This Commission represents a cross section of individuals and groups who are particularly interested in this area of the law. They each bring a unique perspective to the study and we thank them for their willingness to serve.

“Many individuals and families in this state are impacted by domestic violence. As a Court we are particularly concerned with access to our courts for all of our citizens. We are also concerned that we have adequate and efficient procedures in place to address the needs of litigants and the court personnel involved in these proceedings,” Justice Lamar said.

Attorney General Jim Hood said, “Our office is looking forward to working with the Mississippi Supreme Court in this very important task to improve the response of the legal system to the crime of domestic violence.”

Heather Wagner, director of the Attorney General's Domestic Violence Division, said, “It has been a goal of our division to protect victims of domestic violence and to hold offenders accountable, and this Commission will give us the mechanism to recommend changes to Mississippi's laws specifically with those purposes in mind.”

The Supreme Court in its order directs the Commission to study “existing statutes and procedural rules that impact proceedings, civil and criminal, involving charges of domestic abuse.” The Court said that the Commission’s report “shall include the Commission’s findings and recommendations for changes in the statutes and rules, if such be needed, to improve the just, fair, and effective disposition of such proceedings.”

The Court said that the Commission report’s findings and recommendations should consider victim safety, equal access to the courts by victims and accused parties, due process, and offender accountability. The report will address:

• desirability of uniform statewide procedures for handling domestic violence protection orders and proceedings involving such orders;

• the impact of constitutional issues regarding custody and visitation provisions in domestic violence protection orders;

• the reconciliation of laws and rules pertaining to domestic violence protection orders with uniform acts, other state laws, and federal laws;

• accessibility of the courts to indigent litigants in domestic abuse proceedings;

• whether court resources currently devoted to addressing domestic violence are adequate;

• other issues identified by the Commission.

Other Commission members include: University of Mississippi School of Law Professor Deborah Bell; Mississippi College School of Law Professor Shirley Kennedy; Court of Appeals Judge Virginia Carlton of Columbia; Chancery Judges Margaret Alfonso of Gulfport, Jaye Bradley of Lucedale, and Cynthia Brewer of Madison County; Circuit Judges Margaret Carey-McCray of Greenville, Vernon Cotten of Carthage, and Kenneth Thomas of Cleveland; Justice Court Judge Deborah Gambrell of Hattiesburg; Municipal Judge John Shirley of Pearl; Gulfport Assistant City Prosecutor Martha Carson; Assistant District Attorney Kassie Ann Coleman of Hattiesburg; Hinds County Public Defender William LaBarre; Hinds County Assistant Public Defender Lynn Watkins; Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Ken Winter of Oxford; Jackson attorney Brandi Brown of Catholic Charities; Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Anna Walker Crump of Jackson; Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford; Rep. Kimberly Campbell of Jackson; and Mississippi Judicial College Director Cynthia Davis of Oxford.