Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph, left, and his attorney Ned Nelson, exit the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Miss., Monday, May 22, 2023, for a lunch break, during the first day in federal court where a judge is hearing arguments about a Mississippi law that would create a court system with judges who would be appointed rather than elected. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging House Bill 1020 are looking for a workaround to prevent the appointment of judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court and a separate court system within the county. 

Under the law, passed during the past legislative session, Supreme Court Justice Michael Randolph is tasked with appointing four temporary judges to the circuit court and one to the Capitol Complex Improvement District court. A lawsuit filed on behalf of Jackson residents argues HB 1020 violates the U.S. Constitution for race discrimination. A temporary restraining order in place since May has prevented Randolph from making those appointments, but Randolph was dismissed from the lawsuit in June, putting into question whether the court can continue to block his appointments. 

If the restraining order is lifted, Randolph will be able to immediately appoint judges, the plaintiffs argue. Attorneys are asking U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate to approve motions that would still block appointments without focusing on the chief justice. 

Plaintiffs are requesting a temporary restraining order against four yet-to-be-known circuit court appointees to prevent them from taking oath and assuming office. Although the identities of the judges are not known, the plaintiffs plan to give them notice of the restraining order through a legal notice in the Clarion Ledger, attorneys said. 

“A continuous and seamless prohibition is further necessary to maintain the status quo and avoid possible irreparable harm from any violation of constitutional rights to equal protection of the law,” plaintiffs wrote in the Aug. 3 motion for a temporary restraining order. 

Another motion by the plaintiffs asks to amend the lawsuit complaint to add 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.  

Plaintiffs are also asking Wingate to clarify that Randolph was dismissed at the plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief but not remaining claims for other forms of relief. 

Attorneys for the defendants – state officials such as Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell, Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey and the attorney general – have opposed the motions in writing and in court Tuesday. 

Wingate did not rule on any pending motions from the bench. He plans to prepare a written order addressing Randolph’s presence in the lawsuit by next Wednesday, when he will hold another hearing. Remaining motions will likely be addressed in writing in the coming weeks. 

A separate state challenge to House Bill 1020 is ongoing. The Supreme Court has not ruled in that case. 

On Tuesday, Wingate also heard from the U.S. Department of Justice about why it wants to intervene in the lawsuit and whether its presence would prolong the case. 

The Civil Rights Division argues the appointment of judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court and creation of a new separate court system in Jackson is racially discriminatory and unconstitutional, according to court records. 

The state argues that the federal government is attempting to sue the state of Mississippi to get around the court’s dismissal of Randolph in the lawsuit and his ability to appoint judges. 

Wingate also asked whether this was the DOJ’s driving force behind the department’s intervention. 

Attorney Bert Russ said circumventing his order was not the driving force behind the department’s intervention, nor would its presence prolong the case. 

“Our interest is to ensure the residents of Hinds County are free from discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause,” he said.

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Mina, a California native, covers the criminal justice system. Before joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Clarion Ledger and newspapers in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and USA Today.