January 5, 2011 11:56:00 AM
Circuit judges are more used to watching people get sworn in than doing the swearing themselves, but judges'' hands were on Bibles across the state on Tuesday as they took the oath of office for new four-year terms.
In the 16th District, which includes Lowndes, Clay, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties, an additional judge took the bench. The new third seat has been taken by West Point attorney Lee Coleman, who won a runoff election in November against Nebra Porter, also of West Point.
Coleman joins Judge Jim Kitchens, who defeated William Starks to keep his seat, and Judge Lee Howard, who ran unopposed.
The election was a first for the 16th District, both in the number of judges and how they were elected. For the first time, judges had to reside in a certain county. Kitchens'' judgeship must be held by a Lowndes County resident. Howard''s seat belongs to Oktibbeha County, while residents of Clay or Noxubee counties can hold the new third seat.
The new system eliminates the old practice of "running the herd," with all judgeships going to the top vote-getters, no matter their place of residence in the district. The state Legislature adopted the new, uniform system in 2005.
However, the judges'' place of residence doesn''t matter as much as their ability to conduct a fair trial and adequately interpret the law.
We do hope that the third judgeship will alleviate a little pressure, and get criminal and civil cases heard more quickly. We understand continuances of cases happen. Sometimes attorneys need more time, new evidence comes to light or other events interfere. But trials shouldn''t be delayed because of a lack of manpower, especially on the judge''s bench.
Too often, it seems that time-intensive trials are pushed to the side, while small-bore drug cases are shoved through. The wheels of justice should turn as speedily as possible. We hope the third judgeship adds a little grease.
Serving the courts is a serious, sobering undertaking, and we thank our local judges for their service. We wish Judge Coleman the best of luck as he settles into his new role.