Jim Kitchens, a former district attorney with 40 years practicing law, formally announced his candidacy today, saying his decision to run was rooted in the desire to uphold and protect the integrity of the courts.
"In the last several years, a disturbing trend has emerged from our courts, one where the people of Mississippi are routinely overlooked for the benefit of large corporations and out-of-state interests," Kitchens said.
Kitchens said he fears the court is moving too close to being a politically motivated body. While he believes there are fair, impartial justices sitting on the bench, he says some seem to be ruling based on political ideology instead of on the letter of the law.
"I've been in situations where it was my duty to represent a client whose political and personal beliefs ran contrary to my own, but I upheld my duty as an officer of the court and provided them with the legal representation they deserved," Kitchens said. "The same should be expected of our justices on the Mississippi Supreme Court. Their political and personal beliefs should be set to the side, and their rulings should be based on the law alone."
Kitchens said a disturbing trend of overturned verdicts on behalf of individuals has made it far harder for the everyday citizens of Mississippi to expect reasonable access to the judicial system.
"Certainly, some jury rewards are exorbitant and some lower court rulings are in error," Kitchens said. "But when you have a court that overwhelmingly rules on one side, case after case, then you have a court that is out of balance. You have an activist court. And we do not need activist judges in Mississippi."
Kitchens said the people of Mississippi should trust that their judges are fair and balanced in their rulings.
Kitchens said two major issues will define the future of the Mississippi Supreme Court:
1. Electing versus appointing judges.
2. Campaign finance reform.
Kitchens said he is the only candidate who has publicly stated his support for protecting the right of voters to choose their judges. He said he adamantly disagrees with Chief Justice Jim Smith's proposal to give the power of selecting state judges to the governor.
"It is a simple choice: We can protect the people's right to choose the men and women who interpret their laws, or we can hand that power over to the politicians who fight and bicker and seek the solution best for themselves first, their political party second and their state somewhere a distant third."
Kitchens said he would fight any attempts to strip the people of their right to vote for one-third of their state government.
"If we can trust the people to choose the governor, and we can trust the people to choose the Legislature, then I see no reason why we can't trust the people to choose the judges of the Mississippi Supreme Court," Kitchens said.
On campaign finance reform, Kitchens said he is the only candidate with a clear plan to bring about a real conversation on the matter.
"My chief opponent's idea of reform is to take away a person's right to vote," Kitchens said. "My idea of reform is to bring people together lawyers, judges, business people and everyday Mississippians to discuss ways to tighten the laws governing how money is raised and spent in judicial elections."
Kitchens advocates a blind trust system where judicial candidates are not aware of who gives to their campaigns. Under Mississippi law, judges cannot ask for donations, but nothing prohibits them from knowing who donates to them or to their opponents.
"When people go before a judge, they should not expect preferential treatment because they gave the judge money," Kitchens said. "Likewise, when a person goes before a judge, they should never fear for their case because they gave money to the judge's opponent. The courtroom is no place for political retribution."
Kitchens said that by prohibiting judges from knowing who gives to their campaign, people can rest assured that campaign donations will not play a part in a judge's ruling.