Special judges have been working in Hinds County since late summer 2020 to assist with a backlog of cases caused by disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Jess H. Dickinson of Madison is among special judges appointed by Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph to tackle the backlog.
The work has an indirect effect on crime, Dickinson said.
“The less crowded the court dockets are, the quicker judges can get to trials and move cases along,” he said. “We’re trying to free up time for circuit judges and county court judges to get to trial on cases where crimes have been committed recently.”
All parts of the judicial system must work together to move cases through the system, he said. “You can’t clog up any part of it or it makes it difficult for everybody,” he said.
Dickinson, appointed on July 30, 2020 to assist Hinds County Court Judge Johnnie McDaniels at the request of McDaniels, has heard appeals from Jackson Municipal Court and Hinds County Justice Courts.
“I have resolved 323 county court cases, 164 appealed from the various Hinds County Justice Courts and 158 county court cases appealed from Jackson Municipal Court,” Dickinson wrote in an email to Beverly Kraft, public information officer for the Administrative Office of Courts.
“I have 35 cases set for trial.”
Dickson said he reviewed dockets and files, developed a list of cases still open and then worked to resolve them. He used Zoom to facilitate some hearings but conducted all trials in person.
The cases went back “quite a way,” said Dickinson, who did not know why they weren’t pursued earlier.
Gerald Munford, Hinds County prosecutor; Keith Gates, chief prosecutor for the city of Jackson; and Paula Cable, court administrator for Hinds County, have been helpful, he said.
Because he is a special judge and does not have a courtroom designated for his use, Dickinson has used for docket calls, meetings with lawyers to discuss scheduling, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Room, Room 139, on the first floor of the Woolfolk Building. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann made arrangements to make the space available.
Dickinson has not used the committee room for trials because the elected Hinds County Court judges have loaned him their courtrooms and court reporters. “We’ve worked well together,” he said.
After completing his work with the Jackson Municipal Court and Hinds County Justice Courts, Dickinson will then work for Hinds County Circuit Court. Dickinson’s appointment runs through June 30.
Former Hinds County Court Judge James D. Bell of Jackson was appointed on July 24, 2020, to assist Hinds County Court Judge LaRita Cooper-Stokes at the request of Stokes.
Bell been assigned 1,020 cases most within the last month, including 992 cases with hearings on motions to dismiss scheduled May 11.
“We have scheduled trial/motion hearings on almost all of the assigned cases during the next six weeks,” Bell wrote in an email to Kraft.
Bell, whose appointment runs through June 30, agreed with Dickinson that the Hinds County Court has accommodated with the use of courtrooms and court reporters for motions and trials.
“I have not had to use the budget hearing room yet,” Bell wrote in an email to Kraft “Simply having it available helps prevent backlog, because not having a hearing space cannot now be used to justify the delay or the rescheduling or hearings and trials. This often results in resolution of cases. I believe we will have a large number of our cases completed by the end of May.”
Randolph appointed in addition to Dickinson and Bell six retired veteran judges at the request of the Hinds Chancery Court and Hinds County Court judges to assist in the backlog.
Appointed on Aug. 4, 2020 were retired Hinds County Chancery Judges Patricia D. Wise of Jackson and William H. Singletary of Clinton, who were named to assist the four chancellors of the Hinds Chancery Court at the request of Senior Chancellor Denise Owens. The appointments of Wise and Singletary extend through June 30.
Resident Jurist John N. Hudson of Natchez was appointed on July 24, 2020 to assist Hinds County Court Judge Carlyn M. Hicks in Youth Court, at her request. Hudson’s appointment was through March 31.
Retired Circuit Judge Isadore W. Patrick Jr. of Vicksburg, retired Circuit Judge Betty W. Sanders of Greenwood and retired Supreme Court Justice David A. Chandler of Louisville received special judge appointment orders on Aug. 4, 2020 that ran through March 31. Hinds Senior Circuit Judge Tommie Green after consultation with the district’s other three circuit judges handled case assignments.
The Mississippi Legislature appropriated $2.5 million of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to assist the courts. Special judges appointed across the state will be paid with CARES Act funds.