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Court takes step in right direction

The Mississippi Supreme Court has taken a step in the rightdirection with its plans to require judges to step down from casesthat involve major campaign contributors.

Justices announced the proposed revisions in the judicial codeof conduct Thursday. The changes include allowing litigants toreject the trial judge assigned to a case without stating a reason.Also in place will be an election committee to respond quickly toallegations of judicial campaign improprieties and address thepolitical activities of judges.

The revisions are certainly warranted after last year’selections saw 11 candidates raise $3.7 million to win one of fivespots on the state’s two appellate courts. The $3.7 million doesnot include at least $1 million in controversial contributions madeby the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to candidates who the organizationviewed as business-friendly.

Under the new rules, Supreme Court and Appeals Court judges willbe allowed to take part in cases where an attorney or litigant hasdonated less than $2,000 to the judge’s campaign.

A judge’s campaign committee cannot solicit or acceptcontributions earlier than 60 days before the qualifying deadlinefor candidates or later than 120 days after the last election inwhich the judge participated during the election year.

Chief Justice Ed Pittman said the provisions are ”bold newadoptions.”

”We are attempting to create a politically clean environmentfor judicial candidates, and the Code of Judicial Conduct wouldassist in maintaining fairness and truthfulness between opposingcandidates,” he said.

That’s certainly not too much to ask, but as long as judges areelected instead of appointed, it may be too much to expect.