As early as this week, four temporary judges could be appointed to the Hinds County Circuit under House Bill 1020.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate read an abbreviated opinion from the bench Wednesday finally dismissing Supreme Court Justice Michael Randolph from a lawsuit brought by the NAACP on behalf of Jackson residents challenging the judicial appointments Randolph is directed to make under the law.
Randolph has been unable to make the appointments because of a temporary restraining order that has been in place since May. Now that he is no longer part of the lawsuit, he can proceed with those appointments.
“He is commanded and must obey,” Wingate said about Randolph making the appointments as HB 1020 dictates.
This decision comes several months after Wingate issued a June opinion dismissing Randolph from the lawsuit under judicial immunity – a legal principle that shelters judges from civil lawsuits when they perform judicial acts. Randolph’s attorneys argued the appointments under HB 1020 are a protected act, while the plaintiffs disagreed.
The plaintiffs also argued that the chief justice’s dismissal from the lawsuit only applied to his ability to appoint temporary circuit court judges, but not the appointment of one judge to the Capitol Complex Improvement District court court created by HB 1020. The plaintiffs asked for Wingate to clarify his order, which the judge did Wednesday.
From the bench, Wingate said he stands by his June order and has expanded it to address Randolph’s appointment of a CCID judge, saying that is also a covered judicial act. Under HB 1020, that appointment would not have to be made until January 2024, which is when the CCID court would be created.
He didn’t accept the plaintiff’s argument that because the CCID is an inferior court like a municipal court, its judicial appointments would need to be made by the municipality’s governing body, such as the city council. Instead, Wingate said the CCID court is more of a “hybrid court” that resembles a municipal court but has differences crafted by the Legislature that set it apart.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs still seek to block any judicial appointments from happening. Last week, they explained a potential workaround to Wingate.
With Randolph no longer on the lawsuit and bound by a restraining order, the plaintiffs are asking Wingate to approve a request to amend the lawsuit complaint by adding several defendants: two state officials, the five unknown court appointees and two yet-to-be-known prosecutors appointed to the Capital Complex Improvement District court by the attorney general.
The next step would be for Wingate to approve a temporary restraining order preventing the four yet-to-be-known circuit court appointees from assuming office.
Attorneys for the defendants, including the public safety commissioner, Capitol Police chief and attorney general, have objected in written motions and in the courtroom to the plaintiff’s requests.
Attorney Rex Shannon, who represents the defendants, said the court can’t issue a restraining order if the parties are unknown, which would make it impossible to be able to properly serve and process them. He also said that the plaintiff’s proposed method of notifying the appointees of the restraining order through a legal notice in the Clarion Ledger would not be sufficient.
Mark Lynch, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the need to maintain the status quo, prevent any harm to the plaintiffs and urgent nature remain, which is why Wingate should approve the motions to amend the complaint and issue the new restraining order.
“We don’t have to wait long to find out who the John and Jane does are,” Lynch said.
Wingate said he will decide on those rulings and several other outstanding ones – including a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case – after he issues his full, official order about Randolph.
A separate state challenge of HB 1020 is ongoing, but the state Supreme Court has not issued a ruling. It has been two months since oral arguments took place.
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