High Court Evolving?

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Mississippi Supreme Court Justices Bill Waller, Jr., George C. Carlson and Mike Randolph all won election last week. Their campaigns were heavily financed by business interests, the medical community and some lawyers. A fourth court member, Justice James Graves, is in a Nov. 16 runoff with Samac Richardson.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court amended its rules on how Mississippi courts would handle mass lawsuits. In September, the court overruled a Holmes County judge and ordered separate trials for plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the makers of the heartburn drug Propulsid because only three of 31 plaintiffs were from Holmes County.

And in 2003, the court issued new rules on how civil cases would be randomly assigned to judges.

Waller last week called the changes "court reform.'' The changes appear to favor corporations, which contend that a litigious climate discourages economic development as companies tend to shun so-called lawsuit abuse havens.

Mississippi has been the site of multimillion dollar verdicts and settlements in cases involving the tobacco industry, asbestos, health maintenance organizations and drug companies.

State lawmakers have since adopted caps on punitive and compensatory damage awards.