Blaming the judges for the backlog of cases in Hinds County is a common excuse made for the dysfunctional Hinds County criminal justice system. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court cast blame last year on the prosecutors and said the judges should take control of the docket away from the District Attorney's office.
Senior Circuit Judge Tomie Green tried to reassign all criminal cases to her self and Judge Bill Gowan and all civil cases to Judges Jeff Weill and Winston Kidd several years ago. Judge Weill fought back in court and the dispute wound up at the Mississippi Supreme Court. Judge Green withdrew her order and the court considered the dispute to be moot. However, Justice George Carlson had a few things to say about the backlog of criminal cases in Hinds County and blasted the Hinds County District Attorney in a concurring opinion in the dispute between Circuit Judges Tomie Green and Jeff Weill:
What has become abundantly clear to me through the pleadings, motions, and our discussions with the judges is that the problem is not that the circuit judges need more flexibility in scheduling trials; the problem is that the judges have been far too lenient with litigants and with the district attorney’s office. Litigants have been permitted to dictate the movement of cases through the judicial system, and those in the district attorney’s office have been allowed to control the dockets.
In our meeting with the circuit judges, it was disclosed that Hinds County has been accused of “not trying cases.” (This comment was not made by anyone in the meeting, but was a reference to something said in the media.) To defend against that allegation, one circuit judge explained that the reason more criminal cases are not set for trial is because assistant district attorneys can prepare for only a few cases each week. Judge Gowan made a similar statement in his response brief: “[T]rials are not had every week. The assistant district attorneys and public defenders can only prepare for two to four trials per week[,] and it is routine for defendants to plea[d] either the week prior to or the week of trial.” From these comments, it is apparent that the assistant district attorneys are controlling the docket. That is not the job of anyone in the district attorney’s office. The responsibilities of the district attorney are set forth in Mississippi Code Section 25-31-11. Sections 25-31-5 and 25-31-6 pertain to assistant district attorneys. Nowhere in those sections are they given responsibility for setting the docket. Rather, judges are responsible for maintaining their dockets
It is my opinion that the fact the assistant district attorneys apparently have decided that they will prepare for only two to four trials per week is unacceptable. Other districts set the docket ten to fifteen cases deep, anticipating that defendants will offer pleas prior to trial, or that continuances may be necessary in some cases for any number of valid reasons. The district attorney and assistant district attorneys should always be ready for trial, and trial dockets should be set without regard to their preferences. If two judges set trials at the same time involving the same assistant district attorney, it is the assistant district attorney’s responsibility to have an attorney in the courtroom to prosecute those cases. That is not the circuit court’s problem. The circuit judges should implement rules and enter orders, if necessary, to control their dockets...
If the assistant district attorneys violate the rules, they should be sanctioned. I strongly advise the circuit judges to start setting more cases for trial, and to stop letting the district attorney’s office control their dockets.
Two other justices joined the opinion while four others joined in part.