Electronic court filing is coming, justice says|[06/20/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

Warren County is next in line to try out an electronic circuit court docket filing system now used in federal courts, Mississippi Chief Justice James W. Smith told Rotarians Thursday.

“This is an amazing system,” Smith said during a half-hour speech during the weekly meeting of the Vicksburg Rotary Club. “Everyone is very excited about this.”

Smith, who is in his 16th year on the Supreme Court, is in his fourth year as chief justice.

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Smith said the computerized docket system that’s used across the nation at the federal level is going through a pilot program in the Madison County Circuit Court and will come to Vicksburg next, he said.

If successful at both locations, circuit courts across the state will begin using it. He didn’t give a timeline for the system’s arrival in Warren County.

Smith said the few states with an e-filing system at the circuit level are spending millions of dollars going through vendors to supply the software.

However, Mississippi’s Supreme Court, with the help of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, is attempting to adapt the same e-filing system already used by the federal government to the state’s circuit level. Smith said nine other states have followed Mississippi’s lead in taking this approach.

Seeking re-election to the state’s highest court position this year, Smith said he thinks of himself as an unusual politician.

“I was once told that the key to maintaining an elected office is to do nothing. That when you make decisions and try to be progressive is when you cause controversy.

“Well that’s not me,” he said. “I guess I’m just a little different.”

Smith also said a study this year by the University of Chicago Law School ranked Mississippi’s Supreme Court second in the nation in productivity, trailing only Georgia, and ranked the state court second nationally in providing funds for underprivileged people trying to afford civil litigations.

“And I bet if they did these studies again we’d be No. 1,” Smith added, noting that the data going into the studies was now outdated, and that the Magnolia State’s high court had improved in these areas, and others, since the data was collected.

Overall, Smith, who has written more than 800 majority rulings during his Supreme Court tenure, said he is very pleased with the high court.

“Right now, this is a fair, balanced, hard-working court,” said the Rankin County native who was a circuit court judge and a prosecutor before his election to the Supreme Court. “The best I’ve ever worked for.”

In the Nov. 4 general election, Smith will face Crystal Springs attorney Jim Kitchens and Ceola James, a former chancellor in the 9th District.

In 2000, Smith beat back a challenge by 9th District Circuit Judge Frank Vollor of Vicksburg, a race mired in controversy over U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads for incumbents.

Before his court positions, Smith was a teacher and a middle school principal and is a veteran of the U.S. Army.