Judge Henry Wingate plans to rule on the matter before the end of the year as the new CCID court is set to be established on January 1st.
The dispute over the soon to be Capitol Complex Improvement District court in Jackson continued before a federal judge on Tuesday.
Federal Judge Henry Wingate heard from parties involved in a preliminary injunction request on the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) that was established with the Legislature’s passage HB 1020. Governor Tate Reeves signed the bill into law.
Attempts to put the implementation of the new court system on hold have persisted since its creation in the spring of 2023.
The Plaintiffs’ Case
The plaintiffs, represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) presented their arguments for a preliminary injunction against HB 1020 to the court on Tuesday. They maintain that HB 1020 was enacted with discriminatory intent, adding that there exist procedural contradictions regarding the appointed judges and prosecutors.
An attorney for the NAACP presented the plaintiffs’ argument, saying that they do not challenge the creation of the CCID court district, but do challenge the appointments by state officials. HB 1020 lays out that the judge over the CCID would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court along with two additional prosecutors to be appointed by the Attorney General’s office. Taking the appointment power out of the hands of local officials, the NAACP argues, can insulate prosecutors from local governance and monitoring.
The NAACP pointed specifically to Section 5, subsection 1 of HB 1020 in which the provision takes away prosecutorial discretion and gives it to a state elected official. The plaintiffs claim this is an infringement on residents’ rights, as they did not elect the judges and prosecutors. The NAACP says this ability can also impact Jackson voters’ rights and their voice in local matters.
Their argument hinged on what the NAACP claims is a violation of voters’ rights in the Jackson and Hinds County area with the implementation of a new court system and appointed judge and prosecutors.
“This is a disparaging view of local voters here in Jackson,” said the NAACP’s attorney.
He went on to add that ultimately, the plaintiffs believe that the law was created under racial prejudice based on the high population of African Americans in the capital city, an argument that has been made since its introduction in the Legislature yet repeatedly dispelled by advocates. The point of the law, proponents contend, is to aid the city of Jackson in tamping down rampant crime while assisting in clearing court backlogs.
Other options for resolution to the growing backlog of court cases were mentioned during Tuesday’s court proceedings. The NAACP attorney argued that financial resources infused into the existing Hinds County court system could have been an option chosen by the Legislature. He said current county judges and prosecutors are state employees. The plaintiffs suggested that the Section 5 provisions that were changed in order to allow the state to appoint prosecutors be revised to give that authority to local officials.
Counsel for the defense, which includes the Governor, Attorney General and other state officials, argued that the plaintiffs have not shown any real or imminent threat of harm to themselves as required by law to request an injunction.
“They haven’t shown that they face any imminent danger of being prosecuted by the CCID court,” said Rex Shannon, representing the Attorney General’s office. “The plaintiffs here have not shown that any of them have been personally subjected to a discriminatory treatment by the CCID court which does not exist yet.”
He claimed that under settled law the plaintiffs cannot show evidence of such threats or harm under Article 3. Shannon added that there will be no changes to long standing municipal courts and how the officials who oversee those jurisdictions are elected. He also said the NAACP also does not qualify for organization standing under current law.
Shannon quantified the argument of the establishment for a new court system and the expansion of the Capitol Police force, as the Legislatures attempts to help fight crime in the capitol city. He went on to rebuke any assumption that officers or the potential CCID court are inherently racist.
Today, Capitol Police employ 160 officers, with plans to increase their force up to 230 officers. The department fields anywhere from 17,000 to 18,000 calls for service in a month. Just a year ago, that number was less than 400 calls. In addition, the Capitol Police have made over 600 felony arrests and handed down 200 misdemeanor charges. Shannon said these numbers are expected to increase next year when the CCID jurisdiction increases in July of 2024.
As for the composition of the force, Shannon said 75 percent of the Capitol Police are black, which is percentage representative of the community.
Shannon said this increase in police work must be matched with an increased ability in the judicial system to handle the cases. Hinds County continues to work through a backlog of cases. Shannon said the CCID Court is intended to help alleviate that issue.
“Capitol Police have faced difficulties in obtaining warrants from Hinds County judges,” said Shannon. “The CCID court judge would provide an additional court for police to obtain these warrants.”
When pressed on why this is happening, Shannon clarified that these judges, not all in Hinds County, are purposefully refusing to sign the warrants for Capitol Police. The insight into the Capitol Police’s experience was shared with the court through a declaration by Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey.
“There is no question that the establishment of the CCID court is rationally related to legitimate government interest,” said Shannon.
The defendants’ counsel went on to address the claims that the new court system with appointed judges would impact voters rights. He said the CCID court is an additional court, not a replacement, adding that those who are tried in CCID court will have the right to appeal in a Hinds County Court, which are elected. Further, the CCID court provisions are “race neutral,” quoting Wingate’s own comments of the “crime cancer” in the Jackson area.
“It is the Hinds County Circuit Court who will ultimately have control over the CCID court through the appellate process,” said Shannon.
He concluded by asking that the preliminary injunction motion be denied on the basis that the plaintiffs have not properly complied with Article 3. If the court determines not to do that, Shannon requested a reasoned explanation for use in the appellate process.
“The city of Jackson is unique for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with race,” said Shannon. “We’ve all witnessed what this court has referred to as a ‘dysfunctional city government.’ These problems not only effect the residents of Jackson but those who commute here each day. All this to say, that the crime problems of Jackson do not stop at the city limits.”
Shannon said crime in the capital city is a problem that the state legislature has a right to address.
Representation from the United States attempted to argue for the plaintiffs in the case, but an objection was submitted by the State and was sustained by Judge Wingate. He indicated he would allow for them to do so at another time.
Another issue on the table Tuesday centered around Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Michael Randolph’s naming as a defendant.
Due to a written clarification that plaintiffs were not including Randolph based on any personal interest or bias, but merely in his official capacity, the defendants requested that the motion to strike be dismissed.
“Our quarrel is not with the Chief Justice or Attorney General; it is with the Legislature for enacting 1020 with discriminatory intent,” said the NAACP attorney. “They are merely the executors of the Legislature’s will.”
Judge Wingate said he has not persuaded to revoke judicial immunity for Chief Justice Randolph. Wingate said it has been confirmed through other courts, as well has his previous opinion.
“He has judicial immunity and has no place in this lawsuit,” said Wingate.
Judge Wingate said he plans to have his opinion completed prior to January 1, 2024, when HB 1020 is anticipated to go into effect.
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