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Judge dismisses complaints against...

Judge dismisses complaints against Chief Justice and Circuit clerk in 1020 lawsuits

By: Sarah Ulmer - May 11, 2023
Judge Dewayne Thomas

Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas speaks to the parties involved at a hearing, Wednesday, May 10, 2023, in Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss., where he heard arguments about a Mississippi law that would create a court system with judges who would be appointed rather than elected. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Chancery Judge dismissed both Chief Justice Randolph and Clerk Wallace from being named as defendants in the case.

On Wednesday, Judge Dewayne Thomas heard arguments in the Hinds County Chancery court regarding the dispute over HB 1020.

Judge Thomas, who has served in the chancery court since 2006, issued a restraining order on the law just last week. When meeting on Wednesday, he told the courtroom that he considered this the most important case he has heard in his career.

On Wednesday he released an opinion regarding defendants named in the suit.

Judge Thomas dismissed both Chief Justice Michael Randolph and Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace from being named as defendants in the suit.

In the Judge’s memorandum dismissing Chief Justice Randolph, he wrote:

“This Court has carefully considered Plaintiffs’ assertion that judicial immunity not only applies to a suit for damages and does not extend to suits seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The cases relied upon by Plaintiffs for this proposition simply do not bear out the distinction.”

In his memorandum regarding Clerk Wallace, he found that the law indicates a clerk, in their official capacity, cannot exercise power beyond constitutional authority.

“To require Defendant Wallace to remain as a party herein would be to place him in the untenable position of violating either his Oath of Office and statutorily imposed duties or violating a Court Order under penalty of contempt.”

A comprehensive opinion on the legality of HB 1020 is not expected to come from Judge Thomas until later in the week, or early next week.

Representation for Chief Justice Randolph and Clerk Wallace motioned that the judge remove them from being named in the suit. They cited that they were acting in their professional capacities and following the law that was set forth by the Legislature.

Attorney Cliff Johnson, with the MacArther Justice Center, primarily represented the three plaintiffs in the suit. He argued Justice Randolph and Clerk Wallace were included as defendants in order to further provide injunctive relief.

Attorney Cliff Johnson
Attorney Cliff Johnson, Director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, speaks during a hearing, Wednesday, May 10, 2023, in Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss., where a judge heard arguments about a Mississippi law that would create a court system with judges who would be appointed rather than elected. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The plaintiffs made a request that The State of Mississippi be included as defendants, targeting Governor Tate Reeves and Attorney General Lynn Fitch in their official capacities

HB 1020 does several things.

The major points of controversy within the lawsuits, is that the law allows for the Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice to appoint four temporary judges to the circuit court. The positions expire in December of 2026. It also creates an inferior court within the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) with an appointed judge, that is also temporary.

The bill also expands the CCID and gives capitol police increased jurisdiction within the city of Jackson.

Johnson said it is the plaintiffs believe that the allowance of temporary judges violates the state’s constitution. He pointed out that the temp judges would only serve six less months than a full term judge, from 42 to 48.

He argued that the plaintiffs, all of whom live and pay taxes in Hinds County, have standing against the law. The state, primarily represented by Rex Shannon – special assistant attorney general and deputy director of the office of civil litigation division – stated that they cannot prove the appointment of judges will actually cause them or any other resident’s harm.

All three plaintiffs gave testimony at the hearing. Ann Saunders, Dorothy Triplett, and Sabreen Sharrief said they feel strongly about appointed judges overseeing cases in the Jackson area.

“I feel very strongly about ties and my rights. This isn’t just for me, this is for my children so that we can stand for something and make Jackson proud,” said Sabreen.

They all expressed a desire to see judges in Hinds County live in the area and understand the community.

Since the passage of the bill, those defending it have maintained that its intent is to help Jackson clear a long list of backlog court dockets. They say this is just one of the many issues facing the capital city as crime continues to rise.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: