Judge issues temporary restraining order blocking implementation of H.B. 1020

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 10:22 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Hinds County chancery judge has temporarily put the brakes on a section of a controversial bill that would expand law enforcement in the capital city.

On Thursday, Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas issued a temporary restraining order on H.B. 1020, less than two weeks after the law was signed by Gov. Tate Reeves.

The restraining order will be in place at least until he holds a hearing on the motions in the case, which Thomas has scheduled for next Wednesday at 9:30.

“This court makes no findings that plaintiffs are entitled to relief. Instead, this court specifically finds that it is unable to determine the likelihood of success on the merits without a full hearing,” he wrote in a written order published Thursday afternoon. “The court further finds that its power to render a meaningful decision on the merits will be impeded if a temporary stay of effectuation of House Bill 1020 is not had.”

Thomas said the order would not block a law already in place that allowed Mississippi Chief Justice Mike Randolph to appoint special circuit judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court last year.

“The court is well aware that the plaintiffs were challenging the constitutionality of that section of the code as well as H.B. 1020, but this statute has been in law for many years, and what I’m trying to do is stay in the status quo until I can have a hearing next week,” he said. “And I’ll rule then on what we should do or may not do.”

Cliff Johnson, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi, was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“We think that every day that these appointments are put off, every day that this piece of legislation is delayed is good news for the people of Jackson and the people of Hinds County,” he said.

The news comes less than two weeks after Reeves signed H.B. 1020 and after two lawsuits were filed to block its implementation.

The chancery court challenge was filed on April 24 by the ACLU, the Center for Justice and others on behalf of three Jackson residents saying provisions of the law, as well a separate state statute that allows the chief justice to appoint temporary judges to handle Hinds County criminal cases, unconstitutional.

H.B. 1020 calls on the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint four judges to the Seventh District Circuit by May 8. The judges, under the statute, would serve nearly a full four-year term in office, according to court records.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that appointing judges for nearly a full term would deprive Hinds County residents “of their constitutional right to vote for local circuit judges and to have their rights determined by courts legally exercising jurisdiction over them pursuant to the authority of the Mississippi Constitution.”

Records from the Administrative Office of Courts show temporary judges have been appointed numerous times since 2007.

In 2022, Chief Justice Randolph appointed four special judges: Andrew Howorth, Betty Sanders, Stephen Simpson and Frank Voller, none of whom were from Hinds County, to help with a backlog of cases brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thomas said his ruling would not impact the four judges that were appointed under Mississippi Code Section 9-1-105(2), which gives the chief justices the authority to appoint circuit or chancery court judges to help with emergencies or overcrowded dockets.

The NAACP, the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP and others have also filed suit to block the implementation of 1020 but in U.S. District Court.

A hearing in that matter was slated for Friday before U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate. However, that hearing has been canceled.

Other provisions of 1020 include the expansion of the existing Capitol Complex Improvement District as well as the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Capital Police.

“Next week... we will address the totality of the issues in this case, all the claims we make around [the] appointment of judges under House Bill 1020 and under other existing law. We’ll discuss the CCID court that is being set up in Jackson that we believe is an illegitimate court,” Johnson said. “The judge has said he wants to hear arguments and all those issues.”

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