Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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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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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) filed a formal complaint against Justice Court Judge Mary Curry, alleging she violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(1), 3B(2), 3B(5), 3B(7), 3B(8), and 3C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Curry stipulated she: (1) “has signed warrants based on affidavits sworn by her relatives . . . .” then would not set bond even though the charges were misdemeanors and recuse herself from the case; (2) displayed a pattern of dismissing Petition for Order of Protection From Domestic Abuse without having statutorily mandated hearings; (3) granted a bond reduction for a relative whose initial appearance she presided over; (4) waived an expungement fee and directed the clerks to void the receipts and refund the money; and (5) requested the complainant-clerk be transferred from her position as Justice Court Clerk once the Judge learned a complaint regarding her conduct had been filed. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted the parties’ joint motion for approval of the Commission’s recommendation and ordered Judge Curry be publicly reprimanded. Judge Curry was ordered to appear on the first day of the next term of the Circuit Court of Claiborne County in which a jury venire would be present, after the mandate in this case has issued, to be reprimanded by the presiding judge. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Curry" on Justia Law

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In 1996, James Harper was to appear before Judge John H. Sheffield at the Lee County Justice Court on charges of driving under the influence and having an expired inspection sticker. But Harper failed to appear, and Judge Sheffield issued a warrant for his arrest. The trial went forward, and Judge Sheffield convicted Harper on both charges. Judge Sheffield then imposed a six-month suspended sentence and a $600 fine for the DUI and a $50 fine for the inspection sticker. That same day, Harper entered into a payment plan with the Lee County Justice Court for his $600 fine. Two days later, he paid $50, which was credited to the DUI case number. Harper appealed his DUI conviction. The conviction was upheld; and he satisfied the terms of his sentence. In 2013, Harper again was arrested for DUI in Lee County. At that point he was told he could not post bond until he resolved a matter with Judge Sheffield. The next day, Harper appeared before Judge Sheffield, who accused Harper of failing to pay the fines imposed for the 1996 justice-court convictions. Despite Harper’s protestation that he had appealed to county court, lost, and paid his fines, and despite the fact that Judge Sheffield had with him the justice-court case files for Harper’s earlier convictions, both of which contained Harper’s notice of appeal and the county-court notification, Judge Sheffield sentenced Harper to serve six months at the Lee County Work Center for the DUI conviction. Harper served four months in the work center before being released due to an infection requiring hospitalization. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined Judge Sheffield’s conduct was not due to an innocent mistake, it amounted to judicial misconduct. So the Court imposed a public reprimand, a 120-day suspension without pay, and a $3,000 fine, and assessed all costs of the proceedings to Judge Sheffield. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Sheffield" on Justia Law

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In 1996, James Harper was to appear before Judge John H. Sheffield at the Lee County Justice Court on charges of driving under the influence and having an expired inspection sticker. But Harper failed to appear, and Judge Sheffield issued a warrant for his arrest. The trial went forward, and Judge Sheffield convicted Harper on both charges. Judge Sheffield then imposed a six-month suspended sentence and a $600 fine for the DUI and a $50 fine for the inspection sticker. That same day, Harper entered into a payment plan with the Lee County Justice Court for his $600 fine. Two days later, he paid $50, which was credited to the DUI case number. Harper appealed his DUI conviction. The conviction was upheld; and he satisfied the terms of his sentence. In 2013, Harper again was arrested for DUI in Lee County. At that point he was told he could not post bond until he resolved a matter with Judge Sheffield. The next day, Harper appeared before Judge Sheffield, who accused Harper of failing to pay the fines imposed for the 1996 justice-court convictions. Despite Harper’s protestation that he had appealed to county court, lost, and paid his fines, and despite the fact that Judge Sheffield had with him the justice-court case files for Harper’s earlier convictions, both of which contained Harper’s notice of appeal and the county-court notification, Judge Sheffield sentenced Harper to serve six months at the Lee County Work Center for the DUI conviction. Harper served four months in the work center before being released due to an infection requiring hospitalization. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined Judge Sheffield’s conduct was not due to an innocent mistake, it amounted to judicial misconduct. So the Court imposed a public reprimand, a 120-day suspension without pay, and a $3,000 fine, and assessed all costs of the proceedings to Judge Sheffield. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Sheffield" on Justia Law

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Adofo Minka was held in direct criminal contempt by the Hinds County Circuit Court for unprofessional and contumacious behavior during the trial of his client which resulted in a mistrial. Minka was fined $100 and ordered to pay the costs of the jury in the amount of $1,350. Minka appealed, arguing: (1) he did not improperly comment during opening statements on a potential sentence his client might receive, which triggered a sua sponte objection from the trial court and was a key basis for the State’s request(s) for a mistrial; (2) his comments did not warrant criminal sanction because counsel have broad latitude during opening statements and closing arguments; (3) the record did not support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that any of Minka’s comments or conduct constituted criminal contempt; and (4) even if the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s contempt and sanction order, the monetary fine was $650 more than it should have been; therefore, the sanction amount must be reversed, lowered, and rendered. The Supreme Court found no merit in any of the points of contention argued by Minka on appeal. View "Minka v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In this auditing malpractice case, Thomas L. Wallace and T.L. Wallace Construction, Inc. appealed the Circuit Court's grant of summary judgment to McArthur, Thames, Slay, and Dews, PLLC (“McArthur Thames”) for lack of causation. Wallace filed suit against McArthur Thames, alleging that the accounting firm had negligently audited the financial statements of Wallace Construction and ultimately had caused the destruction of the company by failing to discover hundreds of personal credit card purchases by certain company employees, failing to discover transactions involving hundred of thousands of dollars spent by Wallace Construction to pay for personal home improvements of nonshareholder employees, and by failing to discover inappropriate accounting practices that resulted in an overstatement of income. Wallace sought to recover damages of approximately $14,000,000 allegedly suffered by him as a result of accounting work done by McArthur Thames. The trial court excluded the testimony of Wallace Construction’s sole expert on causation, finding that his opinion was unreliable and insufficient to establish proximate cause. Because the trial court mistakenly believed that expert testimony establishing causation was required in all malpractice cases, and because Wallace Construction presented sufficient lay testimony to overcome summary judgment on the issue of causation, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case the trial court for further proceedings. In addition, the Supreme Court found the trial court abused its discretion in disallowing reasonable access to the financial information of Wallace Construction subsequent to June 30, 2012, and in its denial of discovery of the Wallaces’ personal accounts. View "T.L. Wallace Construction, Inc. v. McArthur, Thames, Slay, and Dews, PLLC" on Justia Law

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Rita McIntosh appealed a circuit court’s judgment affirming the Mississippi Real Estate Commission’s disciplinary order against her, finding that McIntosh had engaged in “improper dealing.” According to the order, McIntosh, as exclusive agent of the seller, interjected herself into the lender’s appraiser selection process and then tried to keep the selected appraiser from completing the appraisal assignment. The Commission imposed a ninety-day suspension, plus a thirty-day suspension held in abeyance, along with eight months’ probation and continuing education courses. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court found McIntosh’s alleged conduct did not constitute improper dealing as contemplated by the Mississippi Real Estate Brokers License Act, it reversed rendered judgment in favor of McIntosh. View "McIntosh v. Mississippi Real Estate Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Dr. Andy Barlow was disciplined by the Mississippi State Board of Chiropractic Examiners for advertising in violation of the statutes governing chiropractors. The complaint alleged that Dr. Barlow advertised using professional designations other than “chiropractor,” “doctor of chiropractic,” “D.C.,” or “chiropractic physician”; Dr. Barlow advertised as D.C., and also as DACNB, FACFN, and as a “Chiropractic Neurologist.” The Board levied a monetary penalty plus the costs of his prosecution. The circuit court affirmed the Board, and Dr. Barlow appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, alleging that the statute governing chiropractic advertising had been implicitly amended or repealed, that the statute governing chiropractic advertising violated his First Amendment rights, and that the Board was without authority to assess the costs of the investigation to him. Furthermore, he argued the circuit court erred by failing to afford him a “de novo appeal.” Because Dr. Barlow’s arguments on whether he should be disciplined lack merit, the Court affirmed the judgments of the Board and circuit court on those issues. However, because the Board lacked authority to directly assess Dr. Barlow the costs of its investigation, the Court reversed on the issue of costs. View "Barlow v. Miss.State Bd. of Chiropractic Examiners" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance charged Montgomery County Justice Court Judge Keith Roberts with misconduct for failing to follow the law in a case before him. Because the Supreme Court found that Judge Roberts committed judicial misconduct, and agreed that the recommended sanctions were appropriate, the Court ordered that Judge Roberts be publicly reprimanded, fined $3,000, and taxed with the costs of these proceedings. View "Miss. Com'm on Judicial Performance v. Roberts" on Justia Law