As Editor-in-Chief of the Mississippi College Law Review, it is my pleasure to present the initial results of our first annual Judicial Administration Project. This summer, when my staff and I met to discuss this year's goals and objectives, a recurring theme appeared in our discourse. In an academic culture focused chiefly on citation rates and well-published authors, we discovered a need for practical commentary on issues faced daily by practicing attorneys. Primarily, we wanted to make our Journal - and its related projects - more relevant to the state and local legal community.
In order to achieve the desired relevance, we initially decided to add a third, "Mississippi-based' journal to our annual publication schedule. However, we recognized that relevance could not be achieved by the mere addition of scholarly work, and that the members of the Law Review deserved a project that would also serve to enrich their understanding of the practice of law in this state. Thus, in an effort to accomplish our goals, and in light of recent passionate - and increasingly acrimonious - debates about the performance of the Mississippi judiciary, [FN1] our Law Review decided to undertake a large-scale study focused exclusively on the Mississippi Court's treatment of plaintiffs and defendants in various contexts, the Justices' patterns of voting together, and heir tendencies to author majority, dissenting, and concurring opinions.
Various members of the legal community have expressed an interest in like projects, [FN2] but the Law Review, as a large, diverse, and politically neutral body is uniquely situated to accumulate the relevant data. Please note, though, that this study was launched as a strictly educational exercise, conducted exclusively by students, and the data produced is subject to human error. Still, while I willingly admit that we are unqualified to calculate margins of error, we have made every effort to remove subjectivity from the study. In order to make the process more transparent, the following describes the procedures employed in the execution of this project.
As stated above, this study involves only the Mississippi Supreme Court. While we hope that future Boards will endeavor to expand the time period that the project encompasses, and to commence similar analyses of the Court of Appeals, we simply could not do so this year.
We initially executed a search to produce all reported Mississippi Supreme Court opinions beginning on January 1, 2004. After the removal of table opinions, approximately 950 cases remained. Additionally, only eight Justices were examined for the purposes of the project. Justices Pittman, Cobb, and Lamar appeared in some of the cases, but were excluded from this study either because the applicable samples were too small, or because their departure from the Court renders further analysis unnecessary.
The opinions were then divided evenly among the Law Review’s 49 members, who completed “Judicial Administration Worksheets” for each of their assigned cases. The worksheets called for the case name and citation, the nature of the suit, the court below and the name of its judge, the Supreme Court Justices authoring and joining in the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions, and the specific disposition of the Court. To avoid the interpretive problems that arise when 49 students apply their personal interpretations of the “nature” of the suit, members copied, verbatim, the case topics appearing on the corresponding MLi Bulletin [FN3] for the case in question. While the data on these worksheets will eventually be entered into a computer database, the original calculations were performed—chiefly by third year law students—using pre-prepared charts and written instructions. Questions about our methodology are welcome, and may be directed to our Law Review e-mail address.[FN4] The specific procedures employed in gathering the data reflected in each of the charts below will appear underneath the relevant chart.
Note that the data presented here are merely the preliminary findings of our study, and that further information will be posted as the year progresses. We invite you to visit the site frequently to view our additional analyses. Furthermore, members of the legal community desiring to publish academic commentary on the findings should contact the Editorial Board using the information available on this site. In particular, analysis of these findings would be appropriate for the new Mississippi Practitioner’s Journal, which will be written chiefly by practicing attorneys. Thank you for your interest and support.
Lindsey N. Oswalt
Mississippi College Law Review