Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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Following an investigation, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance determined that Copiah County Justice Court Judge Teresa Bozeman had violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(2), 3B(7), and 3C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9 (Rev. 2019). During her tenure on the bench, Judge Bozeman’s conduct resulted in violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9. Specifically, Judge Bozeman (1) initiated improper ex parte communications to investigate a pending civil matter, (2) failed to comply with the statutory limitations of money judgments in justice court, and (3) retaliated against a complainant who filed a complaint with the Commission. The Commission found that Judge Bozeman’s conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute, actionable under article 6, section 177A, of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission recommended that Judge Bozeman be suspended from office without pay for thirty days, be publicly reprimanded, and be fined $1,000. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the agreed recommendation was appropriate and commensurate with similar cases of misconduct. Thus, the joint motion was granted, and Judge Bozeman was suspended from office without pay for thirty days, was publicly reprimanded, and fined $1,000. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perf. v. Bozeman" on Justia Law

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Bettye Turner invested approximately $2 million into a securities brokerage account that was created and managed by David Carrick, an investment broker then employed with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (Morgan Stanley). Carrick later worked for Stern, Agee & Leach, Inc. (Stern Agee). Turner and Carrick signed an Account Application in order to transfer Turner’s funds to a Stern Agee account. The Account Application incorporated by reference a Client Account Agreement that contained an arbitration provision. Eventually, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc. (Stifel), acquired and merged with Stern Agee. Turner filed a lawsuit against Carrick and Stifel alleging negligent management and supervision of her investment account. Carrick and Stifel moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied their motion to compel arbitration, and Carrick and Stifel appealed. Because the trial court erred by failing to compel arbitration, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Carrick v. Turner" on Justia Law

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Vernon Walters was injured in a work-related incident in October 2006; the vehicle he was driving was struck by an oncoming train. After receiving workers’ compensation benefits, he and his wife, Donyell Walters, filed a third-party claim against the company operating the train involved in the collision, Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCSR). The Walterses hired the Parsons Law Firm to represent them in their suit, and Tadd Parsons took the case. The Walterses’ lawsuit against KCSR was ultimately dismissed with prejudice in September 2010 for, among other reasons, failure to prosecute, failure to comply with discovery obligations and fraud upon the court. Tadd never told the Walterses that their case had been dismissed and led them to believe their case was ongoing. Three years after the case had been dismissed, Tadd admitted he fabricated a settlement offer from KCSR in the amount of $104,000 and advised the Walterses to accept the offer, which they did. When eight months passed after Tadd informed the Walterses about the fabricated settlement, the Walterses demanded to meet with Jack Parsons, the other general partner at the Parsons Law Firm. Jack offered the Walterses $50,000 to settle any claims they may have had against Tadd based on his conduct in representing them in the KCSR lawsuit. The Walterses refused Jack’s offer and then filed a claim against Tadd, Jack and the Parsons Law Firm, alleging claims of fraud, defamation, negligent representation, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Walterses on the matter of liability, finding that Tadd and the Parsons Law Firm were liable for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court then held a jury trial on damages. The jury verdict awarded the Walterses $2,850,002 in compensatory damages, which exceeded what the Walterses had demanded in compensatory damages in their complaint and in their motion to set damages. Finding the jury’s verdict shocked the conscience, the court remitted the damages to $1,034,666.67 in a second amended final judgment. Parsons appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Walterses cross-appealed. The Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding irrelevant evidence about the underlying KCSR lawsuit because the value of the lawsuit had no bearing on the damages the Walterses sustained due to Tadd Parsons’s and the Parsons Law Firm’s fraud and IIED. Further, the Court determined the remitted verdict’s award of damages was excessive and not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for a new trial on damages. View "Parsons v. Walters" on Justia Law

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Gulfport OB-GYN was a professional association of physicians specializing in obstetrical and gynecological care. In 2008, it hired the law firm Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A., to assist in negotiating the hiring of Dr. Donielle Daigle and to prepare an employment agreement for her. Five years later, Dr. Daigle and another physician left Gulfport OB-GYN to establish their own practice. They sued Gulfport OB-GYN for unpaid compensation and sought a declaratory judgment that the noncompetition covenant was unenforceable. The departing physicians ultimately prevailed, with the chancery court holding the noncompetition covenant not applicable to Dr. Daigle because she left voluntarily and was not “terminated by the Employer.” The chancery court decision was initially appealed, but the dispute was later settled through mediation when Gulfport OB-GYN agreed to pay Dr. Daigle $425,000. Gulfport OB-GYN then filed this legal-malpractice suit against the attorney who drafted the employment agreement and her firm. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants after finding Gulfport OB-GYN had failed to produce sufficient evidence that it would have received a better deal but for the attorneys’ alleged negligence, i.e., Gulfport OB-GYN failed to prove that the alleged negligence caused it damages. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Gulfport OB-GYN, P.A. v. Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A." 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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Judge Jimmy McGee served as a justice court judge for Alcorn County, Mississippi, Post Two. Judge McGee failed to issue final orders on civil matters after conducting hearings and holding cases in abeyance. Furthermore, Judge McGee was charged with retaliatory action against former Alcorn County Justice Court Clerk Jone Dixon based on Judge McGee’s appearance before the Alcorn County Board of Supervisors during executive session. But after further investigation and review of affidavits provided by Judge McGee, the Commission determined that Judge McGee had not engaged in any form of retaliation. The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint against Justice Court Judge McGee; he stipulated that his conduct violated the following canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 1, 2A, 3A, 3B(1), 3B(2), 3B(8), and 3C(1). Judge McGee also stipulated that such actions constituted misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute pursuant to article 6, section 177A, of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission and Judge McGee agreed to a proposed recommendation of a public reprimand and a $1,683.34 fine. The Commission and Judge McGee filed a joint motion for approval of the recommendation with this Court. After consideration, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s recommendation of a public reprimand and $1,683.34 fine. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. McGee" on Justia Law

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Elijah Arrington, III appealed the Mississippi State Board of Dental Examiners’ decision to revoke his dental license. The Mississippi State Board of Dental Examiners (Board) held a disciplinary hearing on June 15, 16, and 17, 2017, to litigate four complaints (involving seventeen violations) against Dr. Arrington; the Board revoked Arrington’s dental license and his Limited Enteral Conscious Sedation Permit. The Board served Arrington and his counsel with its order on July 24, 2017. Arrington filed a notice of appeal with the Chancery Court on August 24, 2017. On August 29, 2017, the Board filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, alleging that Arrington failed to file a cost bond within thirty days. Arrington filed a response in opposition and also requested more time to deposit the bond. He then deposited the bond with the chancery court on August 31, 2017. The chancery court dismissed the appeal, finding that Arrington’s failure to file the cost bond within thirty days deprived it of appellate jurisdiction. Arrington appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which declined to address the cost-bond issue, finding the chancery court lacked appellate jurisdiction based on Arrington’s failure to file his notice of appeal within thirty days. View "Arrington v. Mississippi State Board Of Dental Examiners" 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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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