Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 17, 2015

At last week’s Batesville Exchange Club meeting were (from left) Police Chief Tony Jones, Kelly Morris, Sheriff Dennis Darby, and Judge Bill Joiner. The Panolian photo by John Howell

Retiring Judge Joiner sums it up: ‘people deserve their day in court’

By John Howell
Justice Court Judge Willie E. “Bill” Joiner said that a tenet that has guided him during his career of almost 32 years in office is a a belief that everyone has a right be heard in court.

“People deserve their day in court,” Joiner said, speaking last week to the Batesville Exchange Club. “You’ve got to be patient with them,” Joiner said. “You’ve got to have time to let people present their cases.”

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Joiner’s announcement that he would not seek another term as Second Court District Justice Court Judge set of what has become the most contested race in the 2015 election cycle. Ten candidates have qualified to seek the post.
Joiner’s remarks came in response to an invitation to describe what the job entails.

“You’ve got to know the law,” Joiner continued, or, “You’ve got to know where to find it.”

Joiner first took office in 1984, the year of sweeping changes in Mississippi’s Justice Court system that eliminated the office of justice of the peace for each of a county’s five supervisor districts. Prior to the justice court reform, justices of the peace were paid from fees and fines collected in the courtroom, a practice that spawned widespread abuse.

After 1984, “Judges don’t touch the money; clerks handle the money,” he said
The changes that became effective in 1984 allowed one justice court judge for most counties; one per court district in two-district counties like Panola.

“It really looks like a part-time job, but it’s not,” Joiner said. “I’m busy every day.”

“He’s never denied us at three o’clock in the morning,” said Sheriff Dennis Darby, who was in the audience to hear Joiner. Darby said that deputies frequently contact the judge at all hours, seeking warrants that allow investigations to proceed.
The law restricts judges to two court days per month. In Panola County, with First District Justice Court Judge Mike Wilson also holding court two days a month, “someone is in court every week,” Joiner said.

The justice court judge hears both misdemeanor criminal cases and civil cases up to $3,500. “All traffic, game and fish, preliminary hearings in felony cases,” Joiner said.

Justice Court is often the first line of protection in domestic violence cases. A victim can file an affidavit seeking a protective order that places restrictions on the perpetrator for 30 days, he said. A violation of the protective order can bring a 30-day jail term. A third protective order violation becomes a felony, punishable by up to five years in circuit court, he said.

Criminal cases are more simple than civil cases, he said. County Attorney Gaines Baker is present for the criminal cases heard on court days, and often an attorney for the defendant.

Finally, the retiring Justice Court Judge said, “You’ve got to use common sense in making your judgments.”