Judges Issue Call for Help

Many judges in Mississippi don't have law clerks, but there is a push to change that.

Philip Smith, law clerk for Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon, spends much of his work time hunched over a computer in his tiny office researching the finer points of law.

It's hard work and it keeps him very busy, but he says the perks are nice. Right out of law school, the first case he ever took part in was the trial of Edgar Ray Killen.

"The judge allowed me to sit in on several of the things that went on in chambers, and I was able to get insight about how criminal law works," Smith said.

Clerking is a win-win situation for the clerks and the judges. The clerks get some valuable experience and on the job training without having to actually go it alone, and judges get some help they desperately need.

Judge Gordon says with an increasing workload it would be virtually impossible to get his work done without Smith.

"It's very valuable. It's absolutely necessary to have a law clerk because you have such complex issues," Gordon said.

But not every trial judge in Mississippi has them. Some lawmakers say that needs to be changed for the very reasons Judge Gordon mentioned.

Smith says with all the work he does he can't imagine a judge doing it without a clerk.

"The judges that practice without a law clerk have a difficult job," Smith said. "For me to do it all is hard, not to mention a judge do it, plus presiding over the court."

And according to the Chief Justice Jim Smith of the Mississippi Supreme Court, there are about five or six counties that could use additional judges.

Smith says that a third judge in the Tenth Circuit Court District is definitely a possibility, but it is ultimately left up to the Legislature.

"It is certainly the prerogative of the Legislature," Smith said. "The statistics, as I am aware, would warrant an additional judge in the Tenth District. It is one of the heavier districts, no question about it."

Smith says that the Legislature has provided additional judges statewide. That will begin in the next three or four years.


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