Mississippi Supreme Court District 1 Candidates Bill Waller Jr. and Rep. Earle Banks touted different kinds of experience Monday as they made their case to about 50 people at a Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.
Waller, the incumbent who serves as the court’s chief justice, said the entire court system has progressed since he was first elected to the bench in 1996.
The last seven circuit court districts that did not originally offer drug courts have either started them or are in the process of doing so, he said. Drug courts serve as an alternative sentencing for those charged with drug crimes. It does not require incarceration but subjects offenders to intense monitoring and drug screening.
Waller said the savings from those 3,000 people being in drug court instead of behind bars amounts to $38 million annually.
“But that’s not the reason to have it,” he said. “The reason to have it is the 350 graduates we have this year have a 70 percent success rate, of not going to prison.” The recidivism rate for those who follow the traditional path of incarceration and release is 70 percent, Waller said.
Expanding the Mississippi Electronic Courts pilot program and setting in place court user-funded pay raises for trial and appellate judges and district attorneys were things Waller listed as improving the efficiency and independence of the state’s courts.
Banks said his 40 years operating a funeral home in Jackson and 20 years as a state representative are proof that he’s a community –minded servant.
“It’s an honor to serve my neighbor,” Banks said.
Banks spent the majority of his speech promising to arrive at the supreme court with fairness and impartiality. “And I will follow the law and be open-minded on every issue, even if it’s one I either supported or opposed as a member of the Legislature.”
Banks also sang the praises of the state’s drug court system. He said he helped fellow Hinds County Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, usher the bills establishing the program through the steps needed for passage. “That kind of legislative experience is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
If there was any tension between the two, it was when Banks pointed out that his campaign has not taken any money from political action committees. “That’s something we won’t do,” Banks said. “This campaign is about representing people.” Banks said his campaigns for election to the Legislature had accepted PAC money.
Waller has gotten endorsements and the requisite financial contributions from PACs representing almost every business group and trade organization in Mississippi, and from some outside the state.
Waller said that although he has not restricted such donations, he does not know who has or has not given them to his campaign. Keeping track of donors is something he leaves to campaign staff, he said.
“As long as we have elections, you’ve got to pay for the elections and contributions is how you do it.”
Waller has been endorsed by the state Republican Party. Banks, who serves as a Democrat in the House, has been endorsed by the state Democratic Party. Banks called the notion of political parties endorsing candidates in nonpartisan judicial elections “a farce. It is what it is, and it’s the law.”
“I think it’s a fact of life,” Waller said. “We’re in the vote-getting business.”