State Rep. Trey Lamar, the bill’s author, says the legislation is aimed at improving safety in Mississippi’s capital city.
The Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) in Jackson could see its own separate judicial branch created in the 2023 Legislative session.
HB 1020, authored by House Ways and Means Chairman State Rep. Trey Lamar (R), would create two circuit courts within the CCID. The courts would be responsible for hearing matters that take place within that defined area.
“This is about aiding law enforcement and providing a safe capital city,” said Lamar. “I’m past the point of wanting to argue with Hinds County on turf. All I’m interested in is making the capital city the safest possible place it can be for the citizens of Mississippi.”
Lamar said there have been reported backlogs of cases to be heard within the Hinds County Circuit Court system for years, which were worsened by the pandemic. In September 2022, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph appointed four special judges to assist the Hinds County Circuit Court in reducing the number of pending cases awaiting trial.
Lamar believes that by creating two new courts for the area in the CCID it would move the legal process along much faster.
The CCID area encompasses portions of downtown Jackson including the State Capitol Building as well as other state and publicly owned properties.
The judges for these courts would be required to possess the qualifications necessary for those who oversee circuit and chancery courts. Those judges would be appointed by the Chief Justice and serve a 4-year term. The parameters for the courts are outlined within the legislation.
The Attorney General’s office would also appoint two prosecuting attorneys for the new CCID courts. The same would be expected of the office of State Defender.
The courts will not be permitted to handle cases that exceed $20 million.
Increased state interest in this area has risen over the last few years. One investment the legislature has made as of late has been an increased presence of the Capitol Police officers in the CCID through the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
DPS and Capitol Police have steadily begun adding more officers to their roster to patrol the area. Currently, DPS says the Capitol Police force is up to 112 officers.
Rep. Lamar’s legislation also clarifies the boundaries of the CCID and attempts to expand its reach. If an expansion is approved, he said this would also increase the need for more Capitol Police officers.
“The court system we are hoping to create within the CCID would not be exclusive to the Capitol Police force. JPD [Jackson Police Department] would also have the ability to send offenders through this system as well,” said Lamar.
Lamar had not had conversations about the plan with the Jackson Police Department prior to this story.
Another element of the legislation would allow for the CCID court system to oversee cases brought against the state of Mississippi. Currently, many of those cases are also handled in the Hinds County’s system.
The bill was referred to the Ways and Means Committee in the House, which Rep. Lamar chairs. He told Magnolia Tribune preliminary conversations with both chambers have been very positive.
“This is just something that needs to happen. We have to improve our court system here,” said Lamar.