Contacted for comment, Justice Jess Dickinson said, “My only comment would be that the concern here was that Justice Diaz was not dissenting to the order – and in fact agreed with it – but rather was expressing his opinion on issues, which were pending in the case, but which were not before the court at this time. The concern is if the case is later appealed, his opinion of those issues has already been published to the public. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Diaz called Dickinson’s characterization “completely and patently false and untrue.”

In the case, the Mississippi State Veterans Affairs Board had appealed a decision by Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green to reject the board’s request to grant a motion to rule in its favor in a wrongful death case involving the estate of Billy Pettigrew.

The high court accepted the board’s request to hear the interlocutory appeal at this point, and Diaz wrote an opinion, which was circulated among the justices for consideration. But before justices voted on Diaz’s opinion, Justice Mike Randolph got justices to vote in a 4-2 margin that the high court shouldn’t hear the matter at this time.

Chief Justice Jim Smith and Justices William Waller Jr. and Chuck Easley did not participate in the case, according to the court’s Web site.

Diaz said he wanted to write a dissent on the case (where he was joined by Justice James Graves), only to be told by the majority he couldn’t.

In addition, the majority instructed the court administrator to bar his dissent from becoming part of the court file, he said.

When the Supreme Court’s decision was made public at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Diaz said he filed an order and attached his dissent to that order.

On Friday, Randolph said he and other justices believed because the order rejecting the interlocutory appeal included no opinion, a dissent did not belong.

“I’ve been on the court four and a half years, and I’ve never had anyone request to attach a statement to the lower court,” he said. “I thought it would be inappropriate to include any statement and to do anything other than send it back to the trial court.”

Because a trial has not taken place, justices lacked enough evidence on which to base a decision, he said. “I felt with some of the issues that it would be premature to rule on those issues because the record was not complete.”

In fact, Diaz had a chance to meet with all the other justices on the matter but did not show up, Randolph said. “Nobody’s trying to quell anybody’s rights to exercise their constitutional right to dissent, to express their opinion in the case.”

Clarion Ledger
8/23/8