Meridian Star - Kitchens Running on Judiciary Campaign Reform
On Nov. 4, Mississippians will line up to cast their ballots, not just for President, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House, but for Mississippi Supreme Court as well. One of the three candidates for District 1, Place 3 on the Mississippi Supreme Court is Jim Kitchens, a self-described "old country lawyer from Crystal Springs", who served as D.A. to the 14th district, which encompasses Copiah, Lincoln, Pike, and Walthall counties, for three terms beginning in the early 1970's.
Despite being an "old country lawyer", Kitchens, who likes to be called "Kitch", is running a technologically up-to-date campaign, employing a well-laid-out Web site as a campaign aid (www.kitchensforjustice.com) and maintaining a blog there. He even has a piano-themed myspace page (as of press time, he had nine "friends"), and a facebook group. His Web site also links to photos on flickr and videos on youtube. No Web site could be found for Kitchen's opponents.
The "Kitch" campaign is not only fueled by technology. Kitchens has received attention in the past, and even been featured in Rolling Stone magazine, for his work on a case involving the estate of Mississippi Blues legend Robert Johnson. Kitchens represented Johnson's son, Claud, in the case, who was named the sole heir to Johnson's estate. The case, according to Kitchens' Web site, is going to be retold as part of an HBO movie about Johnson, written by "Ray" screenwriter James L. White.
But Kitchens isn't relying merely on a nice Web site, or even a portrayal in a movie, to run his race for supreme court. With two opponents former ninth district Chancellor Ceola James, and current Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Smith Ktichens is further differentiating himself by his stance on judiciary campaign finance.
"We need to improve the way we select judges," Kitchens said in an interview. "Judges should be elected, but they shouldn't have the ability to know who contributed to whose campaigns."
The people, he said, should "know that there's a judge sitting on the bench who won't be affected by campaign contributions."
Kitchens said that, though judges technically are not allowed to see who contributed to their campaigns, they are required to file a report showing who contributors were, and can easily view their opponents' contributors online.
Under current judicial campaign finance law, according to Kitchens, judicial candidates are not allowed to directly ask for money, but there is nothing to prevent them from knowing where their campaign money came from, or from asking for money in indirect ways, such as by appearing at a fundraiser.
Kitchens said that, though fundraisers may be held for his campaign, he will not attend them, because doing so would clue him in to who his campaign donors are, and, he said, he has instructed his staff not to tell him who his donors are.
"I don't know," he said, "but I think I'm the only one that's going to do that."
Kitchens has also said that "When people go before a judge, they should not expect preferential treatment because they gave the judge money. 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," adding in his interview with the Meridian Star, "I really want to be impartial."
Kitchens also "respectfully disagrees" with Chf. Justice Smith's idea that supreme court judges in Mississippi ought to be appointed by the governor rather than elected. "The people of Mississippi cherish the right to vote for their officials," he said. "I don't think they want to give up the right to elect one third of our government."
"There's nothing wrong with elected judges if it's done in an upright, honorable way," he said, "but financing is a problem."
With the average cost of a judicial campaign, Kitchens said, likely to reach around $1 million this year, he is not sure that he will be able to finance his campaign as well as his opponents, but he said he will depend more on his grassroots campaign than on money, adding, "I just have to rely on my friends and family to go out and get the money that's needed."