‘Herd’ vote unfair, say area judges

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lincoln County’s circuit court judges say they are satisfiedwith the current district makeup but wish state lawmakers would doaway with the “herd” method of running for office.

The 14th Circuit Court District, including Lincoln, Pike andWalthall counties, is one of Mississippi’s several multi-judgedistricts in which candidates run in the “herd.” Rather than havingassigned places or posts, “herd” candidates run for open seats withthe top-polling candidates claiming the judicial seats.

“There’s no way you can look at the herd and find it to beconstitutional, equitable or fair in any shape, form or fashion,”said Judge Mike Smith.

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Legislation has been introduced this session to eliminate theherd system of electing judges. State lawmakers must also deal withcircuit and chancery court district redistricting before the end ofthe year.

Lincoln County’s new judge Mike Taylor, who has yet to face anelection following his appointment earlier this year, indicated theherd system is unique among elections.

“No other incumbents have to run against each other for the sameseat,” Taylor said.

Smith agreed, saying the system forces judges to run againsteach other.

“You run against your colleague,” Smith said.

Taylor said it is “bad government” to put judges in the positionof being opponents.

“It’s not conducive to collegiality and cooperation,” saidTaylor, adding that the district is fortunate that the electionsituation has not affected his and Smith’s relationship.

Smith advocated a change to the place or post system, where ajudge occupies a designated position.

“Whoever’s going to run needs to pick out who he’s going to runagainst and run against that one,” Smith said.

Another aspect of the herd method of electing judges, saidCircuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins, is potential voter confusion.

“There are still people who are confused by the fact they’resupposed to vote for two people in that race,” said Watkins, whoalso supported a change. “They need to be voting for one personlike they do in every other race.”

On the topic of redistricting, Smith and Taylor supported thecurrent composition of the district. Smith, though, said thedistrict could use another judge.

“We need another judge, but due to the budget situation, I doubtwe’re going to get one,” Smith said.

Chancery Judge Ed Patten, whose 15th District includes Lincolnand Copiah counties, would not be affected by changes in the herdelection method. He added that redistricting plans he has seen donot affect his district.

“They evidently are satisfied with my caseload and the rate Idispose of cases,” said Patten, whose disposal rate is among thetop five in the state.