Federal judge dismisses chief justice in challenge to H.B. 1020; calls crime ‘cancer’ on Jackson

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 12:14 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi’s chief justice is no longer a party in federal litigation challenging the constitutionality of H.B. 1020.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate granted Chief Justice Mike Randolph’s motion to dismiss him, citing the Doctrine of Judicial Immunity.

The decision was handed down in a 24-page order, where Wingate noted the seriousness of Jackson’s ongoing crime problem, but also NAACP’s concerns with provisions in the highly debated House bill.

As for judicial immunity, Wingate said the doctrine “shelters judges from lawsuits, whether declaratory or injunctive, when the judge, within his jurisdiction, performs a ‘judicial act,’” Wingate wrote.

“Often-cited case law found in these pages shows that this doctrine is alive and vigorous, and at times, still controversial in its broad application.”

The decision comes weeks after Gov. Tate Reeves signed the legislation into law and after the NAACP and others filed a federal suit in U.S. District Court to have the law overturned.

Randolph was named as a party in the case because the law would require him to appoint four temporary judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court bench.

The NAACP argued the judges would dilute the power of the existing judiciary and infringe on the rights of voters in Hinds County to elect their own judges.

The civil rights organization also argued the appointed officials would not have to live in the county and would likely be white. Voters in the county have not elected a white circuit judge since 2018.

Randolph, meanwhile, argued he should not be a party to the case because the appointments would constitute a judicial act.

He also says that as a sitting Supreme Court justice, he could not adequately defend himself in the case, or offer his own opinion on 1020.

All nine justices on the Mississippi Supreme Court are expected to hear an appeal of a chancery court ruling in a 1020 challenge next month.

For his part, Wingate pointed to several factors that could bear on the constitutionality of 1020, including the bill’s lack of a residency requirement for appointed judges, the judge’s “unfettered” appointment power, and the fact that the number of appointments is not based on the county’s population or caseload.

At the same time, Wingate said the NAACP failed to address why the state passed 1020, which was to help Jackson with rising crime and the county with an overloaded case docket.

The judge painted a grim picture of crime in the capital city, calling it a “cancer” on the city, and pointing to back-to-back years of record homicides and youth violence, as well as violent crimes’ impact on young people and senior adults.

“Caught in this race to the grave are the most innocent - young children whose still developing lungs had barely tasted the nutritious air which was their birthright,” he wrote. “On the other end of this ‘kill fest’ are the senior citizens hoping to spend their golden years in retired harmony with family and friends, instead of outfitting their homes as fortresses, fearing any strange noise around their houses and dreading the prospects of having to arm themselves.”

Wingate says contributing to this problem are “Jackson street gangs, who successfully recruit the impressed baby-minded school dropouts who ‘wannabe gangsters’ when they grow up,” as well as a dwindling police force.

“Once this proud city boasted a force of approximately 400 sworn police officers, with applicants aplenty vying for the occasional vacancy which occurred,” he wrote. “Now, the situation is markedly different. Jackson now has a police force of approximately 258 sworn officers, with hardly any applicants.”

Jackson Police Dept. employees by yearOfficersCivilian personnel
Source: Jackson 2021 CAFR

He says Jackson’s struggles have caught the attention of lawmakers, who apparently put forth 1020 as a means to help address the problem. However, he says the help being offered is not the help Jackson is seeking.

“Jackson laments that it is in dire need of state funds for its endeavors, for its police force and for courts and its personnel,” he wrote. “The State Legislature, nervous about sending money to Jackson for its courts, passed H.B. 1020.”

Jackson Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne said she had not seen the ruling.

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