Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (the “Commission”) recommended that the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimand and assess a $500 fine against Judge Frank Sutton, a justice court judge for Post Three in Hinds County, Mississippi. Based on complaints against Judge Sutton, the Commission initiated an inquiry into his role in two matters. This investigation led to the Commission’s filing a formal complaint. Judge Sutton did not file an answer to the complaint; instead, he and the Commission stipulated to agreed facts. The Commission then unanimously adopted those facts in its findings of fact and recommendation. The Commission made this recommendation after finding by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Sutton’s conduct constituted misconduct in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commission that Judge Sutton’s conduct constituted misconduct. The Court disagreed, however, with the Commission’s imposition of sanctions. Instead, the Supreme Court ordered a public reprimand, fined Judge Sutton $500 and suspended Judge Sutton for thirty days without pay. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Sutton" on Justia Law

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A standing order in the Third Chancery Court District (Mississippi) set motion days in advance and assigns the particular judge who will preside that day. H. R. Garner, a practitioner in the Third Chancery Court District, knew the directives of this standing order. Yet Garner still claimed that his opposing counsel was judge shopping by filing a contempt petition against Garner’s client and issuing a Rule 81(d) summons that noticed a hearing before a judge who had not been assigned the case. Although his opponent’s actions were authorized by Rule 1.06(C) and the District’s standing order, Garner filed what amounted to a hopeless motion to quash and for sanctions against him. In a twist, the Honorable Vicki Daniels, the judge actually assigned the contempt case, heard Garner’s motion to quash and request for sanctions, which Garner continued to pursue even though he was in front of his preferred judge. After reviewing the motion, Judge Daniels found what Garner’s opposing counsel had done was a “common practice” and was not improper. This prompted Garner’s opposing counsel to urge Judge Daniels to instead sanction Garner for filing a hopeless and frivolous motion, which she did: Garner and his client were sanctioned $1,000 under Rule 11 and the Litigation Accountability Act. Finding no abuse of discretion in Judge Daniels awarding sanctions against Garner, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the sanction. View "Garner v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Judge Jesse Burton of the Southern District of Coahoma County, Mississippi Justice Court, filed an affidavit claiming his former girlfriend had stolen money and personal property from him. Based on this affidavit, another justice court judge issued an arrest warrant for Judge Burton’s girlfriend, Regina Burt. But before the warrant was served, Judge Burton changed his mind and instructed the clerk’s office to rescind the warrant that the other judge had issued. As directed, the deputy clerk replaced Judge Burton’s girlfriend’s name on the warrant with Jane Doe and instructed the sheriff’s office not to execute it. Acting on a complaint from Burt, on August 29, 2018, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint against Judge Burton, who cooperated and entered an agreed stipulation of facts with the Commission: Judge Burton agreed he committed misconduct when he ordered a deputy clerk to rescind his former girlfriend’s arrest warrant, and agreed he violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(1), 3B(2), and 3E(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct of Mississippi and Mississippi Code Section 97- 11-1. The parties’ agreement included the Commission’s recommended sanction of a public reprimand and $500 fine. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the Commission’s findings and recommended sanction. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Judge Jesse Burton" on Justia Law

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Former Court of Appeals Judge Ceola James lost the 2016 election for the Court of Appeals by nearly twenty-two thousand votes. James filed an election contest against the winner, Judge Latrice Westbrooks, alleging Westbrooks improperly affiliated with the Democratic Party and improperly aligned herself with a political candidate, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi’s Second United States Congressional District. James argued that she received all of the “legal” votes due to Westbrooks’s alleged violations of election law and pleaded that she is entitled to hold the judicial post won by Westbrooks. Westbrooks moved for summary judgment, and at the hearing on the motion, the trial court found James failed to submit proof that Westbrooks had improperly aligned her campaign with a political candidate or political party and granted summary judgment in favor of Westbrooks. View "James v. Westbrooks" on Justia Law

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This appeal was one of many civil and criminal cases arising out of the attempted murder of Lee Abraham, allegedly orchestrated by Dr. Arnold Smith. The trial court sanctioned Smith’s attorney, William Bell, for violating its order sealing a portion of a document. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sanctioning Bell, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Smith v. Hickman" on Justia Law

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T. Mark Sledge left the law firm Grenfell Sledge and Stevens, PLLC. When he did, an issue arose regarding the fee distribution for several of the firm’s and Sledge’s cases, more specifically, the interpretation of the firm’s partnership agreements and related documents. Sledge filed suit against his former firm and its individual members. Following a hearing, the Chancery Court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by Grenfell Sledge and Stevens, PLLC, and its individual members and also a declaratory judgment in their favor. Sledge challenged the chancery court’s rulings; however, the Mississippi Supreme Court was unpersuaded by his arguments on appeal and affirmed. View "Sledge v. Grenfell Sledge And Stevens, PLLC d/b/a Grenfell & Stevens, PLLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court centered on release language in a settlement agreement. This case began as a legal malpractice action by Delie Shepard and Ashley Stowers (the Plaintiffs) against Robert Germany and his law firm, Pittman, Germany, Roberts & Welsh, LLP. Shepard and Stowers were represented by Michael Crowley and Edward Blackmon; Germany and his firm were represented by Fred Krutz and Daniel Mulholland. After several years of litigation and mediation, the parties reached a settlement. In the settlement, Shepard and Stowers agreed “to execute a Full and Complete Release.” The parties agreed to and memorialized the essential terms of their settlement in an email exchange. Although the essential terms were agreed upon, Crowley’s email to Krutz did not specify the precise language of the “Full and Complete Releases.” Believing that the parties had a meeting of the minds on the essential terms of the settlement in an email exchange, Germany moved to enforce the settlement agreement using the release language proposed by his attorneys. Shepard and Stowers later filed their own motion to enforce the settlement agreement using their proposed releases. Before Shepard and Stowers filed their motion, the circuit court held a hearing on Germany’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The circuit court entered an Order Enforcing Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dismissal. Unsatisfied with the order enforcing the settlement agreement, which required their signature on the releases, Crowley and Blackmon filed an emergency petition for writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court, which was ordered to be treated as a Notice of Appeal. They later filed a notice of appeal in the underlying case on behalf of Shepard and Stowers. The appeal sought essentially the same relief as Crowley and Blackmon’s petition, so the Supreme Court consolidated the cases. The issue for the Supreme Court was whether the circuit court abused its discretion by enforcing a settlement agreement using specific release language that required the Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ signatures. Finding that the circuit court abused its discretion, the Supreme Court reversed the Order Enforcing Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Crowley v. Germany" on Justia Law

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Dalton Trigg and his father, Dr. Stephen Trigg, sued Dalton’s former criminal-defense attorney, Steven Farese Sr., alleging professional malpractice. The circuit court held that the claims were premature because Dalton had not yet secured postconviction relief from the underlying conviction, and it dismissed the complaint without prejudice. The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review centered on whether a convicted criminal could sue his former defense attorney for negligently causing him to be convicted while that conviction still stood. The Court held that a convict must “exonerate” himself by obtaining relief from his conviction or sentence before he could pursue a claim against his defense attorney for causing him to be convicted or sentenced more harshly than he should have been. To the extent prior decisions of the Court or the Court of Appeals suggested otherwise, they were overruled. View "Trigg v. Farese" on Justia Law

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John Terry sued his former court-appointed attorney Oby Rogers claiming fraud, legal malpractice, and violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The trial court granted Rogers’s motion for summary judgment on all claims and held that the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) was applicable because Rogers’s was an “employee” for the purposes of the MTCA. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment. View "Terry v. Oby T. Rogers, PLLC" on Justia Law

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The chancery court examined the principles underlying quantum meruit and found that Vincent Castigliola and David Kiyhet, attorneys for the estate of Dane Eubanks, should have been awarded attorneys’ fees from two minors out of a settlement they, and only they, obtained. After remand from the Mississippi Supreme Court, the chancery court again heard arguments as to whether Castigliola and Kiyhet should be awarded attorneys’ fees from the two minors based on quantum meruit out of the settlement they obtained. The remand required that the chancery court make specific findings of fact. This time, without making any findings of fact and without any contradictory evidence being introduced, the chancery court reversed course and found that the factors for quantum meruit were not met. Because the chancery court failed to follow remand instructions by failing to make findings of fact, and, because no contradictory evidence was adduced suggesting the factors for quantum meruit were suddenly not met, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a further determination of attorneys’ fees. View "In the Matter of the Estate of Dane Richard Eubanks, Deceased" on Justia Law