Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Mississippi Supreme Court

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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 Robert Allcock died at a hospital, his mother sued the hospital, the treating doctor, and the doctor's clinic. Allcock failed to designate an expert, and the trial court denied her motion to amend the pretrial order. Still, a jury found for Allcock, but the trial court granted the defendants' motion for a new trial because of a faulty jury instruction. Before the second trial, Allcock again moved to amend the pretrial order. The trial court again denied her motion, and the jury found for the defendants. Because the jury instruction stated an incorrect rule of law; and because Allcock was on sufficient notice of the defendants' expert testimony, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's rulings. View "Allcock v. Bannister" 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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Precious Martin and Associates, PLLC (Martin) contracted with T. Jackson Lyons & Associates, P.A. (Lyons) to handle appeal work on several of Martin's cases. After Martin stopped paying for the work, Lyons filed a complaint in the County Court alleging breach of contract and claiming $14,543.19 owed on open account. The county court awarded Lyons $14,543.19 in damages and $4,847.73 in attorney's fees. Martin appealed to the Circuit Court claiming that the trial court erred in awarding attorney's fees. The circuit court reversed the county court judgment on the basis that the agreement between the law firms was an oral contract, not an open account, such that attorney's fees should not have been awarded. Aggrieved, Lyons appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Court found that the circuit court's reversal of the award of attorney's fees was not supported by the evidence. The county court's award of attorney’s fees was supported by the credible evidence and was not an abuse of discretion. The judgment of the Circuit Court was reversed, and the judgment for attorney's fees entered by the County Court was reinstated and affirmed. View "T. Jackson Lyons & Associates, P. A. v. Precious T. Martin, Sr. & Associates, PLLC" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Rehab Solutions, PLLC (Rehab) received notice of tax liens assessed against its property. Thereafter, Chad Willis and Renee Willis (collectively, the Owners) employed the Nail McKinney Accounting firm to assess the financial viability of their business. As a result, numerous financial shortcomings of Rehab’s in-house accountant became apparent. When the inspection of Rehab’s finances began, the accountant left work and did not return. Rehab eventually sued the accountant in tort and in contract, seeking the return of one-half of his wages while employed by Rehab, as well as punitive damages. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Rehab and awarded Rehab $133,543.17 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages. The accountant appealed the jury’s award, asserting that it was not supported by the evidence and that unjust enrichment was not the proper measure of damages. Additionally, the accountant contended that the trial court erred in finding that Rehab’s claims were not barred by the statute of limitations and for submitting the issue of punitive damages to the jury. After a thorough review of the record, the Supreme Court determined that there was not a viable cause of action against the accountant in this matter. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Willis v. Rehab Solutions, PLLC" 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 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