Judicial elections calmer — for now (subscription required)

“As far as any private interest groups on behalf of our opponent, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will come into Mississippi and spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars trying to discredit the name of my candidate, Jim Kitchens, and at least one other candidate for a Supreme Court seat in another district,” said Sam Hall, campaign manager for Kitchens, a partner at Jackson, Miss.-based Kitchens & Ellis who is running against two candidates, including Chief Justice Jim Smith. Smith did not return a call for comment.

The recent criminal case against prominent plaintiffs’ attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, who pleaded guilty to bribing a judge and was sentenced to five years in federal prison, has clouded the state’s judicial elections. Candidates have debated about recent calls for reform, including a change toward merit selection.

And Hall said the Chamber, armed with the Scruggs incident, would likely spend about $1 million on all four races in Mississippi.

In one race, Presiding Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., who was indicted a few years ago on charges of bribing judges, is running against two candidates. Diaz, who faced considerable opposition from the Chamber in past races, was later cleared of the charges.

A call to the Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform was not returned.

Associate Justice Charles “Chuck” Easley, who is running against Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge David Chandler, admitted that his race is under the radar so far. As of July 10, Chandler has raised $125,838, compared to Easley’s $995.

But that would change soon, he said.

“It might heat up next month,” Easley said. “I’m going to squash him like a cockroach.”

Chandler did not return a call for comment.