James takes cancellation of election to appeals court

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 3, 2003

A one-time state Supreme Court hopeful from Vicksburg has taken her dispute with the state over a canceled election to the federal appeals court level.

Ceola James of Vicksburg qualified as a candidate for last fall’s Supreme Court election. Between her qualifying and the election, however, the election was made unnecessary by a law passed by the state Legislature.

James contested that law in U.S. District Court in Jackson.

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“We filed for a preliminary injunction in federal court,” James said. “The judge dismissed it, and it is being appealed to the 5th Circuit,” she said, referring to the New Orleans-based federal appeals court for states including Mississippi.

A deputy U.S. District Court clerk in Jackson confirmed the appeal, saying it was sent to the appeals court Jan. 13. A spokesman in the appeals court clerk’s office could not confirm receipt of the appeal Wednesday, adding that it could have been received but not documented by then.

James’ original complaint in federal court named as defendants Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, House Speaker Tim Ford and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

The office for which James was a candidate, from January 2002 until late summer of that year, is held by James E. Graves Jr., an associate justice.

Graves was appointed in October 2001 to replace the retiring Justice Fred L. Banks Jr., who had left in his term three years and two months. Mississippi Supreme Court justices are elected for eight-year terms.

Under the law that was in effect when Banks retired, a special election would have been required in November 2002 to determine who would serve in the post from January 2003 until the end of the term, in January 2005. Banks’ replacement appointee, in order to complete the remainder of the term, would have had to win that special election.

The law that made that election unnecessary, however, was signed by Musgrove in April 2002 and had received its required approval from the U.S. Department of Justice by September 2002. It requires special elections for Supreme Court vacancies only if more than half of a term remains when a vacancy occurs.

The new law applies retroactively, and it is that fact that James said she is challenging in federal court.

“(Graves’) appointment should’ve been ended,” she said.

Her complaint in U.S. District Court was dismissed by Judge William H. Barbour Jr. on Nov. 4 at the request of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, the court clerk spokesman said. James’ appeal was registered in the Jackson office on Dec. 27, she added.

James, who was one of the state District 9 Chancery Court’s three judges, gave notice that she would not seek re-election to a second term in that post when she filed to run for Supreme Court justice, she said.

District 9 has six counties, including Warren, with judges sitting in Warren, Washington and Sunflower counties. As the Washington County-based judge, James was responsible for all cases from that county. All three judges, however, may handle cases anywhere in the district.

James left her Greenville-based post at the end of her most recent term, on Dec. 31.

By 1992 she had begun handling judicial duties in Warren County, where she has served as a chancery court special master and an interim justice court judge.

Judge Vicki Roach Barnes holds the chancery court District 9’s Vicksburg-based seat. Barnes was re-elected without opposition in November’s general election.