JACKSON, Miss. — The challenger in a Mississippi Supreme Court race said Thursday that the incumbent disagrees too often with other justices.

State Court of Appeals Judge Kenny Griffis, 55, of Ridgeland is trying to unseat Justice Jim Kitchens, 73, of Crystal Springs in the Nov. 8 election.

The candidates in the nonpartisan race spoke Thursday at a forum sponsored by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps. In mostly polite speeches, each man referred to the other as “honorable,” but they sought to highlight some differences.

“In almost a fourth of his cases, he writes separately from the rest of the court,” Griffis said of Kitchens. “He disagrees with his colleagues a lot, and I think the Supreme Court needs a consensus-builder. They need unified opinions that clearly state the law.”

Kitchens responded moments later: “If we all thought the same way, we could get by with a one-member Supreme Court. I think I bring balance to the court, and it is born of my experience.”

Mississippi justices are elected for eight-year terms.

Kitchens was 28 when he was elected district attorney in Copiah and other south central Mississippi counties in 1971. He served nine years, then went into private law practice in Crystal Springs and Jackson. He was first elected to the Supreme Court in 2008.

“You haven’t heard much out of me in the last eight years, and I guess that’s a good thing,” Kitchens said. “I haven’t been involved in any scandal. I haven’t stolen any money. I haven’t run off with anybody’s wife or anything. So, I’ve been kind of a low-key fellow, which is what I think the Supreme Court is supposed to be. I have worked hard.”

Griffis was in private law practice in Meridian and Ridgeland before being elected to the Court of Appeals 14 years ago. He said he wants to bring accountability, integrity, transparency, consistency and innovation to the Supreme Court. Griffis said the Administrative Office of Courts, for example, should produce public reports that show judges’ records of moving cases through the system.

“There’s a lot of work, and we need a new generation of judges who will lead this effort to the 21st Century,” Griffis said.

The two candidates are running in the central district, which encompasses 22 counties: Bolivar, Claiborne, Copiah, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Jefferson, Kemper, Lauderdale, Leake, Madison, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Rankin, Scott, Sharkey, Sunflower, Warren, Washington and Yazoo.


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