Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Mississippi Supreme Court

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a Formal Complaint against Lamar County Justice Court Judge Carol Ann Bustin. The complaint charged that Judge Bustin, while serving as an attorney for David C. Lema’s ex-wife, executed a felony arrest warrant for Lema based upon an affidavit submitted by the ex-wife. The Commission and Judge Bustin jointly moved the Supreme Court to accept an agreed findings of fact and to approve the recommended sanctions: a public reprimand, a $500 fine, and assessment of costs in the amount of $100. After conducting an independent inquiry and giving careful consideration to the joint motion for approval of recommendations and the supporting brief, the Court disagreed with the recommendation of the Commission. "Because Judge Bustin abused the power of her office, acted as judge in a matter involving one of her own clients, and has engaged in similar misconduct in the past, we order a thirty-day suspension from office without pay in addition to the recommended sanctions."

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint against Nell Y. Cowart, justice court judge for the Southeast District, Pearl River County, Mississippi, alleging judicial misconduct. After conducting an independent inquiry of the record and giving careful consideration to the findings of fact and recommendation of the Commission, the Supreme Court adopted the agreed-upon sanctions. Judge Cowart admitted she made a phone call in an attempt to help release a criminal defendant from jail. Judge Cowart stated that the defendant in question was not a criminal, and "would not spend another night in jail." While an officer was testifying concerning the allegations against the defendant, Judge Cowart became emotional and tearful. After Judge Cowart set bond at $5,000, the defendant was removed from the courtroom, and Judge Cowart apologized to the officers for her emotional display of sympathy toward the defendant. On the basis of these actions the Commission filed a formal complaint against Judge Cowart.

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint and charged Steve Little with judicial misconduct. The Commission filed its Finding of Facts and Recommendations with this Court stating that Steve Little should be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office for ninety days without pay, and assessed the costs of this proceeding in the amount of $100. After thorough review, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Commission's findings and recommendations, and denied the Joint Motion for Approval of Recommendations. The Court found that as a justice court judge, Little individually and in concert with others, allowed certain misdemeanor charges to be remanded, nonadjudicated and "retired to the files." Specifically, Little allowed the "de facto nonadjudication" of sixteen charges of driving under the influence (DUI) over the course of two years, allegedly in violation of Mississippi Code. The Commission found by clear and convincing evidence that, by engaging in this conduct, Little had violated Canons 2A, 3B(2) and 3B(8) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Further, Little's conduct is said to constitute willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, which brings the judicial office into disrepute.

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) filed two formal complaints against Alcorn County Justice Judge Jimmy McGee alleging willful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brought the office into disrepute. The Commission and Judge submitted a joint motion for approval of a 120-day suspension, a public reprimand, costs and fees to the Supreme Court. After its independent review, the Supreme Court agreed that Judge McGee's conduct violated several canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Court disagreed with the Commission's recommendation. The Court found the Judge's actions warranted a public reprimand, suspension from office for 270 days, and costs and fees.

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint against Walthall County Justice Court Judge Marion McKenzie for alleged ticket-fixing and for certain ex-parte communications. During a three-year period from January 2006 to January 2009, the Judge disposed of or attempted to dispose of nine citations for misdemeanor offenses. The offenses involved hunting over bait, failing to wear hunter orange, hunting without a license, and littering. On three occasions, the Judge attempted to intervene in cases assigned to another judge. On each occasion, the Judge obtained the violator's ticket and asked the deputy clerk to give the ticket to the citing officer so that the officer could "help" the defendant. The Judge acknowledged his wrongdoing and joined the motion for approval of a recommended public reprimand and $500 fine. After conducting its independent inquiry and giving consideration to the Commission's finding of fact, the Supreme Court ordered a thirty-day suspension from office without pay in addition to the recommended sanctions.