Thomas dismisses chief justice, circuit clerk from H.B. 1020 challenge

Published: May. 11, 2023 at 3:05 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The chief justice of the state’s high court and the Hinds County circuit clerk are no longer parties to a case that could determine the future of a controversial House bill.

On Thursday, Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas approved motions dismissing Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace and Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph in a challenge to H.B. 1020.

The two were named as parties in a late April suit filed by three Jackson residents challenging the constitutionality of a provision of the bill that could have a major impact on law enforcement in the capital city.

While those parties were dismissed, this week Thomas added the state and Attorney General Lynn Fitch to the case.

Randolph was named as a defendant, largely because 1020 required him to appoint special circuit judges to preside over criminal cases in Hinds County, as well as a judge over an inferior court to hear cases originating in the Capitol Complex Improvement District.

Thomas said the three could not sue Randolph due to the doctrine of judicial immunity.

“This court finds that the prior appointment of special judges under Miss. Code... was a judicial act under Mississippi law. Similarly, this court finds that the appointment of temporary circuit judges and the CCID court judge under H.B. 1020 will constitute judicial acts,” he said. “Therefore, the doctrine of judicial immunity applies to the actions of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Mississippi.”

Mike Randolph, Mississippi's Chief Supreme Court justice, speaks with Gulf Coast Business...
Mike Randolph, Mississippi's Chief Supreme Court justice, speaks with Gulf Coast Business Council members.(wlox)

Plaintiffs also sought to enjoin Wallace, who, as circuit clerk, would be required to carry out certain duties once 1020 went into effect.

The judge, though, ruled that decision would be “unnecessary and improper.”

“Defendant Wallace is neither tasked nor empowered with enforcement of the provisions of H.B. 1020... Instead, he is required by law to perform the ministerial acts complained of by plaintiffs,” the judge wrote. “To require... Wallace to remain as a party herein would be to place him in the untenable position of violating either his oath of office and statutorily imposed duties or violating a court order under penalty of contempt.”

Last week, Thomas issued a temporary restraining order blocking the implementation of 1020 until he could hold a hearing in the case.

The chancery court challenge was filed on April 24 by the ACLU, the Center for Justice and others on behalf of Jackson residents Ann Saunders, Sabreen Sharrief and Dorothy Triplett, arguing provisions of the law, as well as a separate statute that allows the chief justice to appoint temporary judges to handle Hinds County criminal cases, unconstitutional.

H.B. 1020 calls on the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint four judges to the Seventh District Circuit by May 8. The judges, under the statute, would serve nearly a full four-year term in office, according to court records.

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