The Justice Court Task Force is looking for ways to improve the Justice Court system in Mississippi. Monday night, the group held a public meeting in Gulfport at the Harrison County Courthouse to gather input.
Justice Court judges have a heavy work load. Handling civil disputes of up to $2,500 and performing marriages are just some of their responsibilities. Unlike other judges, though, they are not required to have a law degree.
"The real issue is whether or not they need to be lawyers. The quick and easy answer to that is absolutely not. You know what, Justice Court judges handle specific areas of the law, and they're very well versed in it. They know the law better than any lawyers that show up there and practice in their court," said Paul Benton.
"I don't think they need to be lawyers. I think this is street justice, and it's common sense justice. You go to court, you present your case, the defendant presents their's, and the judge makes the ruling. And we need that ruling to be made right then and there at that time," said Robert Barq.
Those were just some of the comments people at the meeting expressed to the Justice Court Task Force. Supreme Court Justice Michael K. Randolph headed up the meeting. He and other task force members heard opinions on a wide range of subjects from whether justice court judges should preside over jury trials, to how much money justice court judges throughout the state should make.
"I would suggest, if anything, as the two previous speakers said, there should be a division of the scale of pay for the judges who have the highest loads and are required to perform more diligently," said Fred Gaston.
The task force was formed at the request of state lawmakers. Comments from Monday night's meeting will be considered when the task force puts together a report for state lawmakers to review at the end of the year. Monday night's meeting was the sixth of nine meetings being held throughout the state.