Senate bill could change Justice Court system

Published 12:07 am Sunday, March 16, 2008

NATCHEZ — Justice Court judges across the state may soon see some changes in their court system. Under the recently passed Senate Bill 2571, justice court judges in Adams County will receive the same pay as county supervisors, which will mean an increase of about $6,000.

“Currently, there are several different pay scales for judges throughout the state, with salaries differing by as much as $43,000 from small counties to large ones,” Adams County Justice Court Judge Charlie Vess said. “This bill compresses those pay scales down to match what supervisors make in each county.”

Vess said he believes the increase in pay will help Adams County attract a higher-quality judge.

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With any pay increase for public officials, questions arise over the source of the additional funds. Vess said Justice Court is a completely self-funded entity and one of the few in the state that makes money for the county. He said there were would be enough funds in Adams County for the raises.

The bill, co-authored by Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, also raises the court’s civil jurisdiction from $2,500 to $3,500 and requires judges to pass a competency exam before taking the bench.

“We welcome the increase in training and we will eventually raise the requirements for being a judge,” Vess said. “Now, someone just needs a high school diploma, but hopefully they will be required to have a two-year degree in the future.”

In its original form, the bill would have allowed judges to run for office without party affiliation — something Vess said he has been pushing for a long time. But that portion of the bill was changed before being passed. Justice Court judges will remain the only judges in the state to run as Republican or Democrat.

“Judges shouldn’t be Republican or Democrat,” Vess said. “All people should be able to vote for judges. We’ve been fighting this for a long time. The rest of the judiciary does it this way, and we felt we should be the same.”

“I’m not sure why that portion didn’t make it,” Dearing said. “The judges sure wanted it though.”

The bill was drafted on the recommendations of a governor’s task force formed to review the state’s Justice Court system. The task force was made up of Supreme Court justices and judges from around the state.

“We feel this bill is a good thing for Justice Court,” Dearing said.