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Officials back plans for more judge training

Lincoln County Post One Justice Court Judge Ralph Boone and AnnReeves, judge-elect for Post Two, are looking forward to thepotential passage of recommendations that will increase a justicecourt judge’s training, salary and work load.

The recommendations were proposed by a task force that wascreated by the 2007 Legislature to study the state’s justice courtsystem. The recommendations are expected to be presented during the2008 legislative session.

The task force, whose findings from an eight-month study werereleased earlier this month, has recommended that justice courtjudges be required to possess an associate’s degree or five yearsequivalent work experience in the system. The task force alsoproposed that judges’ orientations be increased to 80 hours, thatthey complete a minimum competency exam and undergo 24 hours ofcontinuing training and education each year.

The task force is also recommending that judges’ salaries beraised to a commensurate level with the supervisors of the countyin which they preside. Boone and Reeves said the reason for theincrease in pay was due to another recommendation of the task forcethat will raise the case liability of the justice courts from$2,500 to $3,500.

“The increase in liability is why they’re increasing a judge’spay,” Boone said.

Currently, Lincoln County Justice Court judges are paid $32,789a year and a supervisor’s pay is $40,400 a year, according tocounty records.

As for court action, civil lawsuits cannot be brought forward inthe Mississippi justice courts that aim to collect more than$2,500. Cases that seek damages of more than $2,500 are handled byhigher courts.

“That $1,000 doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s going to make alot of difference in civil court,” Boone said. “The judges will beworking a lot more, will have more responsibilities. That liabilityraise is going to flood the court with cases.”

Boone and Reeves, a current court clerk who was elected judgethis year and will take office in January, speculated that the$1,000 increase in liability will increase the court’s work load byas much as 50 percent.

A 50 percent work load increase could mean judging hours thatrun far into the night for Boone and Reeves. The pair said theyhave had as many as 100 cases on the docket for a single day in thepast.

Physically sitting down to preside over a case is not the onlyduty of the justice court judges. Both Boone and Reeves referred totheir occupations as “24/7 jobs.”

“You gotta sign off on all sorts of things,” said Boone, who wasalso elected this year but took office early following theretirement of Post One Judge Judy Martin. “You have to be on callall day and all night.

“Police officers will call you up for search warrants in themiddle of the night and you either have to go meet them or havethem bring it to you,” he continued. “Then they have to report ontheir findings in the search and you have to sign off on that, soyou’ll be up all night worrying about a search warrant.”

Neither Boone nor Reeves is complaining about the increasedduties, however. Both welcomed the potential for more work andtraining.

“The training increase will be good for the justice courtsystem,” Reeves said. “Having 80 hours of orientation instead ofthe current 24 hours will be a big help.

“When we were in orientation, we went from 8 a.m. until 5:30p.m. every day,” she said. “They tried to cover all of the workingsof the court room in that time, and it was a lot to consume in oneweek.”

Boone and Reeves were equally pleased with the proposedexpansion of a judge’s yearly continuing education from 18 to 24hours.

Both pointed to the benefits of increased training inestablishing a better functioning court system for Lincoln County.And attending more training sessions will not be a problem foreither person, as both “study all the time, anyway.”

“This increased training will give the judges a better chance tostay on top of the laws as they change and are updated,” Reevessaid.

Boone agreed.

“It’s simple: the more you learn, the more you know,” Booneadded. “You can teach these judges a lot more in 24 hours than youcan in 18. And Ann and I, we’re looking forward to it. We’re gonnago to every training session they’ll send us to.”