Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Mississippi Supreme Court

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Thirteen years after the divorce was finalized, the Lamar County Chancery Court found that the former husband, Appellee John David Gatwood, was in arrears on certain financial obligations imposed by the divorce decree. Because of various extenuating circumstances, the chancellor ordered Gatwood to pay off his debt in monthly installments. More than a year after the chancery court judgment, the former wife's attorney, Jack Parsons, successfully filed a suggestion for writ of garnishment, significantly accelerating payment of Gatwood's financial obligations. Circumstances related to the manner in which the writ of garnishment was obtained resulted in sanctions against Parsons; the garnishment proceedings also gave rise to other rulings which were appealed to this Court. After review, the Supreme Court declined to find the trial court erred: evidence at trial supported that court's finding that attorney's fees and sanctions against Parsons and his client were appropriate. Accordingly, the circuit court's decision was affirmed. View "Cooper v. The Estate of William David Gatwood" on Justia Law

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Hinds County Youth Court Judge William Skinner, II took action in a case in which he was recused and abused the contempt power. Judge Skinner and the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance submitted a Joint Motion for Approval of Recommendations, recommending that Judge Skinner be publicly reprimanded, fined $1,000, and assessed $100 in costs. The Supreme Court found that the more appropriate sanction was a thirty-day suspension without pay, a public reprimand, a $1,000 fine, and $100 in costs. Furthermore, the Court modified "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Gibson," (883 So. 2d 1155 (Miss. 2004)) and its progeny to the extent that they mandated the Court examine moral turpitude as a factor in determining sanctions. Instead, the Court and the Commission should examine the extent to which the conduct was willful and exploited the judge's position to satisfy his or her personal desires. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Skinner, II" on Justia Law

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Norma Slater-Moore hired the Goeldner Law Firm and its attorneys to represent her in what ultimately was an unsuccessful lawsuit and its appeal. Slater-Moore and Goeldner entered into two separate contracts during the course of that litigation, both containing nearly identical provisions stating that any attorney-fee disputes would be submitted to arbitration. Slater-Moore later sued Goeldner for legal malpractice and breach of contract, disputing, among other allegations, the amount she was billed for attorney fees. Goeldner successfully moved the Circuit Court to compel arbitration of the attorney-fee dispute, and Slater-Moore appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Because the Supreme Court found ]no grounds for revocation of a valid agreement to arbitrate the fee dispute, the Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment. View "Slater-Moore v. Goeldner" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance recommended that Mendenhall municipal court judge Bruce B. Smith be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office for thirty days without pay, and pay costs for: (1) failing to properly adjudicate criminal matters assigned to him; (2) engaging in ticket-fixing; and, (3) dismissing criminal charges against multiple defendants in exchange for simultaneous payments to a "drug fund" established and maintained by the Mendenhall police chief. The Commission found that Judge Smith's conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brought the judicial office into disrepute under Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. Specifically, the Commission found by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Smith violated Canons 1, 2A, 3B(1), 3B(2), and 3B(8) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Upon review, the Supreme Court concurred with the Commission’s findings and adopted its proposed discipline. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perf. v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint against Hancock County Justice Court Judge Tommy Carver. It alleged that Judge Carver had ex parte communication with Steven K. Roche about his pending criminal case; failed to disclose such ex parte communication to the prosecutor; dismissed the charges against Roche without a hearing and without any motion to dismiss by the prosecutor; and falsified court records by noting on the file that two witnesses, Officers Bryce Gex and John Grimsley of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Marine Patrol, were absent when Roche's case was called for trial. A three-member committee appointed by the Commission recommended that Judge Carver be suspended thirty days from office without pay, publicly reprimanded, and assessed costs. The Commission adopted the committee's findings. After conducting an independent inquiry of the record and giving careful consideration to the findings of fact and recommendations of the Commission, the Supreme Court ordered that Judge Carver be publicly reprimanded and assessed costs. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Carver" on Justia Law

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After the estate of a former resident sued a nursing home for negligent care, the primary insurance carrier hired lawyers to defend the suit. Because the lawyers failed to timely designate an expert witness, the settlement value of the case greatly increased, causing the nursing home's primary carrier to pay its policy limits, and its excess insurance carrier to step in, defend the nursing home, and ultimately settle the suit. The excess carrier sued the law firm for professional negligence, both directly and under a theory of equitable subrogation. The trial court, finding the excess carrier and the lawyers had no direct attorney-client relationship, granted the law firm's motion to dismiss. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that under the facts of this case, the doctrine of equitable subrogation applied, and the excess carrier could, to the extent of its losses, pursue a claim against the lawyers to the same extent as the insured. Furthermore, the Court held that the excess carrier failed to allege a sufficient factual basis for a direct claim of professional negligence against the law firm. View "Great American E&S Ins. Co. v. Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A." on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) filed a formal complaint against Justice Court Judge Rickey Thompson (District Four, Lee County). The multicount complaint charged Judge Thompson with numerous instances of judicial misconduct, causing such alleged conduct to be actionable under Article 6, Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. Ultimately, the Commission and Judge Thompson submitted a joint motion for approval of a recommendation that the judge be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office for a period of thirty (30) days without pay, fined the sum of $2,000 and assessed costs in the amount of $100. Charges of misconduct were filed against the judge stemming from his alleged improper disposal of cases involving separate charges of individuals operating motor vehicles with no proof of liability insurance. Upon review, the Supreme Court adopted the joint recommendation of the Commission and Judge Thompson. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perf. v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Tunica County Circuit Court Judge Albert B. Smith III acknowledged that he abused his contempt powers and exhibited poor courtroom demeanor in several cases before him from 2006 to 2009. The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance recommended the punishment of: a public reprimand, a $1,000 fine, and an assessment of costs totaling $100. Finding that We find that Judge Smith violated Canons 2A, 3B(2), 3B(4), and 3B(8) of the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct and, therefore, committed willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brought the judicial office into disrepute, the Supreme Court accepted the Commission’s recommendation. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perf. v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) filed a Formal Complaint charging Youth Court Judge Leigh Ann Darby with violating various Canons of the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct and with "willful misconduct in office" and "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute[.]" Judge Darby held a mother in contempt of court for disobeying her verbal orders pertaining to the house arrest of the mother's fifteen-year-old daughter. The mother brought her complaint against the judge when "she wrongly imposed sanctions against [her] for contempt of court without first affording her the due process rights required in a criminal contempt matter." The judge and the Commission jointly proposed a recommendation that the judge be publicly reprimanded and fined. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's recommendation, and ordered the judge be publicly reprimanded, fined $500 and assessed costs. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perm. v. Darby" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint against Judge Teresa Brown Dearman for violating Canons 1 (charging judges to establish, maintain, and enforce high standards of conduct to uphold the integrity of the judiciary), 2A (charging judges to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary), 2B (charging judges to avoid lending the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others), and 3B(2) (charging judges to be faithful to the law and not to be swayed by partisan interests), when she initiated a telephone call to a circuit court judge in Florida. The Commission averred that Judge Dearman reached the voice mailbox of the Florida judge's judicial assistant, identified herself as a judge in Mississippi, and recommended that bond be set for a longtime friend and criminal defendant. It further averred that Judge Dearman personally guaranteed the defendant’s appearance if bond was granted. The Commission recommended that Judge Dearman be publicly reprimanded and ordered to pay $100 in costs, but the Supreme Court found the recommendation insufficient. The Court ordered that Judge Dearman be suspended from office for thirty days without pay in addition to a public reprimand and costs of $100. View "Mississippi Comm'm on Judicial Performance v. Dearman" on Justia Law