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Justice hails successes at state Supreme Court

WESSON — “Good things are going on” at the Mississippi SupremeCourt, including improved efficiency and better publicaccessibility, Associate Justice William Waller Jr. told seniorcitizens and students Wednesday at Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege.

Waller offered an overview of the state’s court system and helda mock trial with some area high school students to show how adriving under the influence charge is prosecuted. Speaking later toparticipants in Co-Lin’s Institute for Learning in Retirement(ILR), the justice touted a number of court accomplishments inrecent years.

“We’ve had great success in reducing the case load and reducingthe time for final disposition,” Waller said.

Waller credited the Court of Appeals, which was created by thelegislature in 1994 and enacted in 1995, as being instrumental inwork load efforts. The 10-member appeals court hears cases that areassigned to it by the Supreme Court.

“It has been a fairly cost efficient system for the state, andit’s been fairly effective in reducing the case load,” Wallersaid.

About 66 percent of cases appealed to the Supreme Court aredirected to the Court of Appeals, Waller said. Last year, the Courtof Appeals reached dispositions in 545 cases while the SupremeCourt did so in 279 cases, according to statistics.

“They were designed to be a work horse court system,” Wallersaid of the appeals court.

Waller said the Supreme Court must retain jurisdiction in casesinvolving constitutional issues, utilities, election contests,annexation, death penalties and cases of first impression, such asthose related to the state’s developing gaming industry.

After a disposition in the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Courtmay grant a review before its justices. However, Waller said thathappens only about 5 percent of the time.

“We’re not seeing a great deal of cases” from the Court ofAppeals, Waller said.

The Court of Appeals is composed of two judges from each of thestate’s current five congressional districts. Addressing thestate’s reduction to four congressional district because of slowpopulation growth, Waller said the legislature last year “froze”the composition of the court at 10 members under the currentsystem.

“We’ll be electing the Court of Appeals under the oldcongressional districts,” Waller said.

Drawing a comparison between the Mississippi Supreme Court andthe U.S. Supreme Court, Waller said the U.S. court, which canaccept cases from all 50 states, reached dispositions in about 100cases last year. He said the state court handled almost 300cases.

“Your chances of going from the Mississippi Supreme Court to theU.S. Supreme Court are not very good,” said Waller, indicating thestate high court is most often the “Court of Last Resort” forcitizens involved in legal issues.

In other areas, Waller touted the Internet as a tool forcitizens to be more closely involved with the Supreme Court.

Waller said oral arguments before the court are now broadcast onthe Internet and the court’s docket is also available. Also, havingthe Mississippi Code and other legal information greatly assistswith attorneys’ and citizens’ research efforts.

“It’s got tremendous benefits as far as accessibility,” Wallersaid.

Waller, the son of former Gov. William Waller, has been on thehigh court bench since 1998. Justices are elected for eight-yearterms, but Waller said a lot can happen in that period of time.

“In four years, five people have left the court in one way oranother,” Waller said.

Waller said only one justice has been replaced by election.Others have been replaced by appointments by the governor.

The justice discussed a bill pending before the legislature thatwould do away with special elections after a justice leaves thecourt before his term ends.

Under the bill, newly-appointed justices would have to beconfirmed by the Senate and would served the remainder of theformer justice’s term. Waller said the reasoning behind the changewould be the possibility of less “political mischief” with fewerelections.

Waller spoke to around 250 Co-Lin and area high school studentsabout 80 ILR members, local attorneys and judges. Dr. BillyStewart, Co-Lin’s dean of community services, said Waller’s visitwas designed to give students and ILR members insight into thecourt system.

“We wanted his visit to be educational for ILR and thestudents,” Stewart said. “It was very successful.”