Pittman: High court changing with times

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 6, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Edwin Pittman, chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, will be the first to admit the judicial system is famously resistant to change.

But according to Pittman, the state Supreme Court is changing its rules to make itself more accessible &045; and make lower-court judges more accountable. In the past, &uot;part of problem has been that we’re too slow to change,&uot; Pittman told the Natchez Rotary Club on Wednesday.

But in today’s fast-paced, quick-access society, the public demands an accessible, efficient and effective judicial system, he said.

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One case in which a court changed to suit the public’s need for information was the Bush-Gore election contest.

In that case, the Florida Supreme Court broadcast oral arguments in the case via the Internet so that news outlets could see the proceedings firsthand.

Adopting that idea, the Mississippi Supreme Court began broadcasting all of its oral arguments via the Internet 90 days after Pittman became chief justice. The Court of Appeals’ arguments can also be accessed over the Internet.

The court is also considering allowing cameras in all of Mississippi’s courtrooms so citizens will be better informed of local proceedings as well.

The state Supreme Court is also changing its rules &045; with the help of former Natchez attorney Jack Poole, now the court’s director of central legal &045; to make judges more accountable. In recent years, a few instances of judicial misconduct have given judges throughout the state a bad name, Pittman said. Still, where misconduct does exist, &uot;we have to be swift to address it,&uot; he said.

An example of how the high court can help make sure proceedings are impartial is that, under a recent rule change, when a person’s motion to recuse a judge from a case is denied, the person who filed the motion can appeal directly to the state Supreme Court.

The court can also help make sure justice is efficient as well as effective. The court has suggested time limits for lower-court judges to process certain types of cases &045; 120 days, for example, for a noncontested divorce.

Another change states that if a judge does not rule on a motion within 90 days, it is automatically referred to the state Supreme Court, which can order the judge to sign the motion.

Pittman also used the podium to champion Senate Bill 2605 which, if passed by the state Legislature, establish a statewide drug court system to get defendants addicted to drugs the treatment they need.

&uot;I know all of us want mega-government to be gone,&uot; he said. &uot;But efficient and effective government is always good for our people.&uot;