Clock is ticking for one aspect of challenges to HB 1020

Published: May. 2, 2023 at 7:42 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - House Bill 1020 isn’t set to take effect till July 1, but there are other dates within the bill. Two legal challenges are seeking to put a stop to its implementation before a judge starts making appointments.

We’re down to less than a week for the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint four temporary special judges for the Hinds County Circuit Court, as required by HB 1020. That’s why multiple groups are hoping for a quick answer to their challenges.

“According to the law, the bill being signed into law on April 21, these appointments would need to be made by this weekend,” explained Blake Feldman, Mississippi Center for Justice Impact Policy Counsel.

What is a difference from previous appointments of such judges? HB 1020 calls for those to last till 2026.

“Instead of them being chosen by the thousands, the tens of thousands of Hinds County voters who usually elect these people, they’re being chosen by one man and it’s half the bench,” added Feldman. “And they will be serving practically a four-year term.”

Both the chancery and federal court challenges note that the time frame will nearly mirror that of the four elected judges’ terms, doubling the size of the bench minus the electorate’s input. Rep. Earle Banks says he doesn’t like the precedent it sets.

“The point is, it’s written now it can go to 2026,” said Banks. “But we can come back with the legislature next year with a whole new term, a whole new speaker and whatever and do whatever. You don’t know where this is gonna take us to down the road.”

For Sen. John Horhn, he’s worried less about the length of service and more about whether they’re effective.

“We did not see where these judges had an appreciable impact on the criminal cases and the heavy civil cases,” explained Horhn. “What progress was made was made on misdemeanor cases by and large, where they were able to get them off the docket and move to resolution. But the criminal cases, which is what most people are concerned with, there wasn’t a whole lot of success by those judges and moving cases. And so we question the utility of using this process when it’s not a proven process.”

Hearings are scheduled in both the chancery and federal cases for later this week.

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