Monday, August 3, 2015

Mississippi Supreme Court blames criminal case backlog on Hinds prosecutors

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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Elections have consequences Hinds County.

Anonymous said...

I would have respected the opinion more if he'd been equally hard on the lawyers in civil disputes.

What it still comes down to, however, is the judges not exercising their judicial power to demand better performance from the attorneys before them!

thusbloggedanderson said...

9:23, civil suits are not subject to the Speedy Trial Clause.

In one of his dissents, Justice Dickinson also took note of the Legislature's apparent indifference:

As this case demonstrates, this Court assumes—as a matter of law with no proof required—that Hinds County Circuit Court dockets are perpetually crowded. This has not gone unnoticed by the State, which has learned that, in Hinds County, it will win the "reason for the delay" Barker factor without bothering to offer any proof or argument. In light of the seemingly desperate condition of the Hinds County trial docket, I find it interesting that, of the seven new trial-judge positions the Legislature created around the State this year, not a single one was created in Hinds County.

Taylor v. State, 162 So. 3d 780, 793 n.33 (Miss. 2015) (Dickinson, P.J., dissenting).

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Judge Weill getting his hands slapped for trying to take control of cases.

But, this slowness, regardless of the cause, is effecting the jail situation, the crime situation and life in general in Hinds County. Our Courts must increase the number of cases heard.

One of the stats quoted in last nights forum was that only 5 criminal cases per judge were heard all of last year. Wish someone would publish the whole truth on all of this.

Anonymous said...

Would any of this fall under the State Auditor's office, if we got a new one. Is there any hint of money changing hands to stop cases?

Anonymous said...

Hinds should have received an additional Circuit Court Judge who's primary duty is to handle criminal cases 12 months a year.

Anonymous said...

No. State auditor has no authority to compel judges and or prosecutors to try cases.

Anonymous said...

And maybe we could have a smart, hardworking judge or is that just not possible?

Anonymous said...

@10:15 - it is interesting to me that they "averaged" the number of cases at 5 "per judge" - I bet the truth is that Weill tried the vast majority of those cases but nobody in that forum was willing to call out the other judges - very sad. What needs to happen is Green assign all the criminal cases to Weill, then we'd see some backlog disappearance. Stanley needs to be the DA - he's a solid, hard-working guy that I really think will rise above politics and just get the job done - I've known him for years and I really believe he would bring the ADAs in line and get those cases tried. Good luck tomorrow Stanley - Hinds County needs you!

Anonymous said...

9:57 am I'm aware civil cases are not subjected to the speedy trial clause.

However, when someone's ability to make a living is put on hold for 5-7 years or a divorce takes over 5 years, that is not justice. And, of course, the legal fees racked up during such long periods makes justice available only to those who can afford it or who find law firms with the resources to take a client without getting paid until they win the case.

Judges put up with absolutely unwarranted delay requests or requests for discovery documents that have no purpose other than to starve the other side into submission or settlement.

Parties are not being held in contempt for failure to comply with court orders for support for spouses and children.

Judges do not sanction attorneys for shenanigans that the court knows or should know have no basis in the law but are only for purpose of delay.

If you are a lawyer , you damn well know that there are more than a few lawyers in town that run up billable hours needlessly and who try to " paper" the other side into submission.

And, somehow, when it comes to criminal defense, " reasonable doubt" , which should be based on reason, becomes any far fetched fantasy that a defense lawyer can dream up.

The legal system is supposed to be about justice, or did you forget that in the fun of playing a game with people's lives?

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).


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In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

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