High court justice lives in Jackson, outside south Miss. district

Published 6:30 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson claims homestead exemption on a home in Madison, outside the south Mississippi district from which he was elected.

Homestead exemption has long been recognized in state law and by the courts as a means of establishing residency.

Dickinson said a provision in the Mississippi Constitution allows justices to move to the state’s capital and still be eligible for re-election from the district they serve.

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The provision says “… but the removal of a judge to the state capital during his term of office shall not render him ineligible as his own successor for the district from which he has removed. The present incumbents shall be considered as holding their terms of office from the state at large.”

Dickinson’s Madison home is outside the state capital. The homestead exemption provides a tax break.

Dickinson, a former Gulfport lawyer, said he still maintains a home in Gulfport.

“But I spend most of my time up here,” he said.

Mississippi secretary of state spokesman David Blount said the office hasn’t dealt with the issue before of a justice moving outside the district.

“When you qualify to run, you have to live in the district,” Blount said.

The state Election Commission recently ruled that a candidate for a state Court of Appeals position didn’t live in the district and could not have his name on the ballot.

Bryant Chaffin of Hattiesburg was disqualified.

Dickinson was elected November 2002 to an eight-year term on the state’s high court. Because his Supreme Court district has approximately a 14-month gap between election and the taking of office, he did not take office until January 2004.

Dickinson’s district streches from southern Mississippi up to Simpson County in the central part of the state.

“It would be hard to stay in your district and be on the court,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson said Supreme Court justices get reimbursed for travel expenses, but it’s taxable income.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Dan Lee of Brandon said it is not unusual for justices from areas far from Jackson to get an apartment and live in the capital while they are on the court.

“There has been a lot of controversy about expenses,” Lee said. “Most people do get a place in Jackson.”