Respect paramount in justice system

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 2, 2002

With good reason the Mississippi Supreme Court is hearingcriticism in legal circles over proposals to allow lawyers to pickand choose the judges who hear their cases. The criticism comes asthe state’s highest court prepares to adopt new rules of judicialconduct.

As proposed, the new rules would allow litigants to reject atrial judge without giving a reason. As a balancing measure judgeswould also be prohibited from hearing cases filed by large campaigndonors.

According to Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Lloyd Pittman,some judges take the proposals as an insult as they feel thechanges will open the judicial system to abuse by unscrupulousattorneys who will shop for the most litigant-friendly judge –leaving less friendly judges disqualified from hearing cases intheir own districts.

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Even more insulting to the judges is the proposal that prohibitsthem from hearing cases involving large campaign donors. Juristsfeel the change implies they can be bought with campaigncontributions.

Chief Justice Pittman says the changes were not intended toinsult but rather empower the people who find themselves incourt.

We are not sure how empowering the people with judge shopping isbeneficial to either the state’s judicial system or the people itserves. We would prefer that judges have the power and the peoplerespect that power. The key word here is respect, which leads us tothe second rules proposal involving campaign donors.

Judges should be insulted by the implication that they can bebought with a campaign contribution; unfortunately, that is theperception. The best way to solve that implication is to get judgesout of the political process by changing the method of selectingour judges to some form of an appointed process rather than thecurrent elected one.

Until that day, the idea that judges must recuse themselves fromhearing cases from major campaign donors is a good one. It maybeshould go further to include any contribution.

The whole thing smells of an attempt by trial lawyers eager tofind new ways to insure their litigation success.

We hope the State Supreme Court will listen to the comments anduse their power to empower the public by building their respect ofour judicial system, not by making it easier for them to circumventthe process.