SHARING THE HARVEST

June 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lisa has a knack for growing all manner of things.  Her patio garden of potted plants yields up a delicious variety of produce that finds its way into our grateful kitchen. This summer we are enjoying tomatoes and peppers galore, as well as the usual herbs. At the end of the summer we will again have a bumper crop of juicy lemons.

This year we have been sharing the harvest, but not with gladsome hearts.

You see, our little patio garden is being pillaged by 2 quarreling mockingbirds (tempting to kill them, but such is proscribed here in the south), a chipmunk with an attitude of entitlement, a sassy squirrel, and a bitchy wren who scolds as she is run off.  These little monsters gobble holes into the tomatoes and even like to nibble on the hot cherry peppers.  The netting spread over to ward them off has only set them a challenge to which they have gamely risen. This afternoon I fought hundred-degree heat to shoo most of the characters away — twice.  One of the mockingbirds, the chipmunk and the wren had all gotten underneath the netting and were feasting away on the two biggest, ripest tomatoes.  Ruined. I had to release the insanely panicked mockingbird from his frantic prison in the net — and again five minutes later.  The wren and the munk escaped unhampered, but the wren stuck around long enough to scold me stridently as I labored to loose the mocker.

The corpus delecti

The netting is now rearranged and more secure. My reassuring, “Don’t worry, they won’t want to fight this netting,” proved to be foolishly wrong.

I did set up a kind of a bird bath nearby, with fresh water, based on the theory that the little critters are actually thirsty in this miserable heat. We’ll see whether that gives some relief from the onslaught.

So it’s man against nature. Mano a mano. Will we prove to be able to outsmart these creatures? Stay tuned.

Ironically, just last week, there was another shared harvest. Our beautiful Easter-yellow daylillies bloomed in the front yard, down by the street. I noted how the dozen or so blooms trumpeted their beauty in the morning light as I left the driveway on the way to the court house.  When I returned home that evening, alas, someone had picked them all, right from our yard. The lovely blooms graced someone else’s table, I suppose.

Now I am not sure of the etiquette that is involved here. On the one hand, one could argue that they are God’s gift to us for all to enjoy. If that’s so, why does the person who picked them get to enjoy them selfishly? Why not leave them there by the curb for all to smile on?  And on the other hand, it’s my property, dammit. Where do you get the nerve to come on my property and pick my (or God’s) flowers?

Oh, well, I am over it. Maybe the flower-picker really needed those blooms more than I did. I’ll leave it at that.

The flowers did remind me of an incident that happened up the street several years ago.  The guy is in his house at dusk and notices two women digging in his garden where he had planted many perennials and bulbs.  He walks down the sloping driveway and greets the two women who are cordial, but intent on their task. One is snipping flowers and the other is digging up bulbs. He asks them to stop and the women are indignant. How dare he. The snipper says she is giving an engagement party for some young friends of the family and needs these flowers. Her companion points out that the daylillies need dividing anyway, and she is merely taking some of the division. All well and good, he says, but I want you off my property and don’t come back and molest my flower bed, he says. The women leave in a huff, incredulous at his insensitivity and crass indifference to their sense of entitlement.

When he told me who the women were, I knew one of them quite well, as I had represented her in a divorce a few years before. The other I knew in passing. Either woman could have whipped out a check and bought the guy’s house and flowers without any pinch in their budgets. I wonder whether they were aware that we now have florist shops that more or less eliminate the need to shop in other people’s yards for your flower needs.

And so we march into summer, which begins Monday. Ouch. Its’s not even summer yet and it’s already hot as hades. The last summer I remember like this was 2005 — the summer of Katrina.

But tomatoes like it hot, right?  And mockingbirds, squirrels, wrens and chipmunks like tomatoes. Anybody got a recipe for mockingbird, wren, squirrel and chipmunk fricasee … with tomato?

MORE ON ELVIS IN THE QUEEN CITY

June 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

I posted here, here and here about Elvis Presley’s appearance in Meridian in 1955.

Here’s a photo provided by Jim Myrick of WMOX radio showing Elvis, Ann Ray and Mae Boren Axton at Meridian Junior College Stadium on Thursday, May 26, 1955.

And a bonus … Here’s a pic of Hank Snow, Anita Rodgers Court (daughter of Jimmie Rodgers), Ernest Tubbs, Carrie Rodgers (Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers), and Johnny Cash at the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial in Highland Park during the Jimmie Rodgers Festival in 1957.

THE SMELL TEST: YOU’LL KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT

June 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sometimes you know something ain’t right.  It doesn’t pass the smell test.

Or, as US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart opined, famously employing a different sense when attempting to define obscenity:  “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it …”  Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 US 184, 197 (1964).

Returning to the olfactory realm, we encounter the fetid aroma of impropriety in chancery proceedings now and then.  Parties conceal assets from one another, warring child custodians grab a child and run and then lie about the whereabouts, witnesses lie under oath, 8.05 statements just don’t add up, et cetera and so on.

But is it fraud?

A finding of fraud opens the defrauded party to all manner of equitable relief.  Before you set out to claim fraud, though, there are some things you need to know.

The Elements of Fraud

The elements of fraud, which must be proven by clear and convincing evidence:

  1. A representation;
  2. its falsity;
  3. its materiality;
  4. the speaker’s knowledge of its falsity or ignorance of its truth;
  5. the speaker’s intent that it should be acted on by the person and in the manner reasonably contemplated;
  6. the hearer’s ignorance of its falsity;
  7. the hearer’s reliance on its truth;
  8. the hearer’s right to rely thereon; and
  9. the hearer’s consequent and proximate injury.

In re Estate of Law, 869 So.2d 1027, 1029 (Miss. 2004), citing Levens v. Campbell, 733 So.2d 753, 761-62 (Miss.1999). See also Spragins v. Sunburst Bank, 605 So.2d 777 (Miss.1992); Martin v. Winfield, 455 So.2d 762 (Miss.1984)

 Pleading Requirements

MRCP 9(b) states: “In all averments of fraud or mistake, the circumstances constituting the fraud or mistake shall be stated with particularity. Malice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of mind of a person may be averred generally.” The comment is worth reading.

A party is not entitled to relief on the basis of fraud where the complaint fails to state the circumstances constituting fraud with particularity and the parties did not try the issue by consent. Brown v. Chapman, 809 So.2d 772, 774 (Miss. App. 2002).

Fraud cannot be inferred, presumed, or charged in general terms. The specific acts of fraud must be definitely averred. Nichols v. Tri-State Brick and Tile Co., Inc., 608 So.2d 324, 331 (Miss. 1992).

This is important:  If a finding of fraud is important to your client’s case, you must plead it, identifying the specific acts you claim are fraud, and specifying for each the acts complained of.  The other party may challenge the sufficiency of your pleadings using MRCP 12(b), but if she does, the court is required to give you an opportunity to amend.  What if the other party creates a nightmare scenario for you by not going the 12(b) route and simply waiting for trial, then objecting right and left to any proof you offer of fraud, moving ultimately to dismiss for failure to plead properly?

The Badges of Fraud

The Mississippi courts have recognized ten “badges of fraud” that a court may use to consider in making a determination whether a party’s intent was fraudulent:

  1. Inadequate consideration for the transfer.
  2. Conduct out of the ordinary course of business.
  3. An absolute conveyance as security for a loan.
  4. Secrecy.
  5. The transferor’s insolvency.
  6. A transfer of all the transferor’s property.
  7. Retention of possession by the grantor.
  8. Failure to list the property covered by the conveyance.
  9. The relationship between the transferor and the transferee.
  10. Whether the transfer was to someone with no apparent use for the property.

A&L, Inc. v. Grantham, 747 So.2d 832, 843 (Miss. 1999).

FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR PROPERTY SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS

June 15, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’ve had these suggestions on the stockpile for a little while, waiting for an opportune time to post them.  Considering Randy Wallace’s post about a less-than-perfect PSA yesterday, I thought now was a good time to float these. I’ll have more later.

  • If you don’t address allocation of the tax exemptions for the children as dependents, the IRS takes the position that it remains with the custodial parent.  If the non-custodial parent will get the exemption, or it will be split, you should include language that the parties agree that they will promptly complete and timely execute and deliver IRS Form 8332 in order to give effect to the provision.  That form is the one that the IRS requires to claim the exemption.
  • Stick with the traditional terms.  The IRS understands the terms periodic alimony, lump sum alimony, rehabilitative periodic alimony, and child support.  If you try to disguise those terms as spousal support or family/spousal support, or family maintenance, or something similar, you are likely sending your client off onto a collision course with the IRS.  William Wright, an attorney in Jackson, told of a case he had where  opposing counsel insisted on applying the term family support to a substantial payment that William’s doctor-client was having to pay each month.  William complied, and his client later took the position with IRS that the payments met all the requirements for alimony, so that he should be able to deduct it, and it should be alimony to the recipient.  IRS agreed, costing the recipient a whopping tax bill, and no doubt improving William’s standing in his client’s estimation.  Had the payments been allocated between child support, which is not taxable, and alimony, which is, the result would have been far different for the recipient spouse.
  • If the other party is not represented, have you made it clear in the agreement which party you do represent, and have you added language to the effect that the other party acknowledges that you have not given him or her any legal advice?
  • Name the children in the agreement.  It affects them directly.  I have read agreements that refer only to “the minor children,” without identifying them, or stating their ages or birthdates, or even how many there are.
  • Have you bothered to read the agreement?  Does it make any sense?  Here’s an actual sentence from a property settlement agreement I was presented:  “Husband to have his title and car, and wife hers.  Each to pay and hold harmless.”  I think I know what that means.  But that doesn’t make it an enforceable contract.

A YEAR DOWN THE ROAD

June 14, 2011 § 8 Comments

It was exactly one year ago today that I started this blog.

My hopes then were the same as they are now:  that I could provide a way to communicate with lawyers about the way we do business in this district as well as how to do better chancery practice.

I have heard from lawyers throughout the state that they are reading this blog regularly and deriving some benefit and enjoyment.  I have heard it from lawyers on the coast, in the Delta, Jackson area, Tupelo, Southaven, Vicksburg, Hattiesburg, both M.C. and Ole Miss law schools, other judges, and even from other states.  A few lawyers in our district actually read it from time to time.  Good. I’m glad to be of help.

We get between 250 and 350 views on the average Monday through Friday; occasionally something will catch readers’ attention or another blog will point out a post, and the views will spike over 500. Readers drop down to about 100 each on Saturday and Sunday.  Those are not big numbers for some blogs, but considering the limited scope we work with here, and the narrow focus, I consider that pretty good.  I’ll keep it up as long as it continues to be a helpful resource.

I’m looking at changing the appearance of the site to make it more visually appealing, although I favor lack of clutter and minimal frills.

I still encourage your comments.  Just because I interpret something in a particular way does not end the debate.  Lawyers in my district will tell you that I am open to differing opinions without taking umbrage.  Don’t be afraid to take issue with my stand. You might not persuade me, but there’s no penalty for civil disagreement.

As always, if you have an offering to publish, or an idea for a post, or a suggestion, send it on via email.

Thanks for letting me be of service this past 365 days.

HIDDEN COSTS OF DIVORCE

June 13, 2011 § 4 Comments

John and Marsha have decided that they are tired of living in their own, personal soap opera, and they have agreed to an irreconcilable differences divorce.  It looks pretty simple:

Marsha will get the former marital residence.  It’s paid for and Marsha intends to stay there.  The house sustained some damage in a wind storm a couple of years ago, and the parties got $10,000 for repairs from insurance, but they spent it on a Hawaiian vacation, with a few days in Vegas on the way out, in an unsuccessful attempt at refreshing their marriage.  Marsha says she can get the repairs done or not because they don’t affect its habitability.  The roof needs replacing, but it’s been patched and doesn’t leak.  She says she’ll fix it if and when it leaks or when she sells the house, but she does not have the $6,000 it will cost right now.

The parties own two adjoining commercial lots worth about $15,000 each.  Marsha has agreed to take the lot they purchased in John’s name in 1990 for $1,500 before Wal-Mart located down the street.  John will get the jointly-titled lot they purchased for $12,500 several years ago.  A car lot is expanding and has expressed an interest.  Marsha would like to settle the divorce as soon as possible so as to cash in.  Marsha owes $14,000 on her credit cards, and she’s behind in her payments, so she needs as much cash as she can get out of sale of the lot.

The parties will split the 1,000 shares of Wal-Mart stock that they accumulated through the years.  Marsha really doesn’t know much about stock, so John has generously agreed to divide the shares.

Marsha has enjoyed driving the 2008 Jaguar that John bought her several years ago in an attempt to make up after she caught him in a questionable situation with a waitress from the Waffle House.  The car is paid for, and Marsha loves it because she has never had a nice car before.  She will get it in the divorce.

John has agreed to pay Marsha $1,000 a month in rehabilitative alimony for 36 months.  Even with the alimony, it will be a tight squeeze financially for Marsha, so she doesn’t need any unpleasant financial surprises after the divorce is final.

Marsha is in a hurry.  She wants you to do up the papers and she will pick them up to go over with John tomorrow, so she can get them filed right away.

It’ll be a snap to prep the PSA, and you are tempted to just hand the notes over to your secretary so they can be done while you hit the golf course.

Before you jump on this, though, ask yourself whether Marsha will really be getting what she thinks she is bargaining for.  Consider:

  • The divorce will be a transaction effecting a change of ownership in the former marital residence, triggering a re-rating of the homeowner’s insurance.  Because the hurricane repairs have never been done and approved by the insurance company, Marsha’s homeowner’s insurance premium is likely to skyrocket.  Not only that, but there are other factors that can adversely affect Marsha’s insurance premium, including her credit rating, which is questionable due to the credit cards.  In order to get her homeowner’s insurance premium back with a reasonable range, she will have to spend that $6,000 on the roof and complete the other repairs.  How can she find out in advance whether she will have a problem? Marsha can get a free insurance C.L.U.E. (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) report by writing CLUE, Inc. Consumer Disclosure Center, P. O. Box 105295, Atlanta, GA, 30348-5295, or by calling 1-866-312-8076.  An insurance agent can help her decipher the report.  And, as you probably know, she can get a free credit report once a year.
  • When the commercial lots are sold, Marsha will be paying capital gains taxes, currenty 15%, on $13,500.  John will be paying capital gains on just $2,500.  Marsha’s tax bite will be $2,025, leaving her $12,975.  John’s taxes will be a mere $375, allowing him to pocket $14,625, or $1,650 more than Marsha.
  • Also, has Marsha gotten a title opinion on the commercial lot titled in John’s name?  It would be a bitter pill indeed to discover when she goes to sell it that John borrowed money against it without her knowledge.
  • The stock has the same pitfall as the commercial lots.  Stock purchased for $25 a share years ago will carry a much heftier capital gains burden than will the shares purchased for $65 a few years ago.  Moreover, John can allocate himself the shares that have sustained losses in the recent downturn.  Yet the parties are treating all the shares the same, and, to make it worse, John will call the shots.
  • As for her ride, Marsha needs to look at it as a cash drain.  How much is she willing to let it drain her?  The insurance alone is more than $1,500 a year, and this year’s tag, which is now due, is $862.  Not only that, it uses exclusively premium gas, and has never gotten the 21 miles to the gallon that the dealer promised.  Yes, it is paid for, but would she do better selling it and taking the cash to buy something more economical?  Can she even afford this car?
  • Finally, the alimony  is taxable income to Marsha unless the parties agree that it will not be taxable.  John will not likely agree due to the fact that he will get to claim it as a deduction.  Is Marsha aware of this?  Can you negotiate an extra $300 or so a month for Marsha to use to pay her income taxes?

You can do the papers exactly as Marsha dictated, or you can sit her down and bring all these matters to her attention.  It’s the difference between acting as Marsha’s clerk-typist and acting as her lawyer.  You get to decide.

GANDHI: SEVEN SOCIAL SINS

June 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

Politics without principle.
Commerce without morality.
Science without humanity.
Knowledge without character.
Wealth without work.
Pleasure without conscience.
Worship without sacrifice.

— Mohandas K. Gandhi, 1925

WHEN IS A GIFT A GIFT?

June 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’ve talked here before about inter vivos gifts between spouses, and how they do not raise a presumption of undue influence.

What about where the question is whether in actuality there was a gift at all, as where a child claims that the now-deceased or infirm parent made a gift of an item, and the siblings deny that any gift was made?

As a general rule, the donee bears the burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence all of the following:

  1. That the donor is competent to make a gift;
  2. That the gift was a voluntary act of the donor who had donative intent; 
  3. That the gift was complete and not conditional; 
  4. That the donor delivered the gift; and 
  5. That the gift was irrevocable.

In re Estate of Ladner, 909 So. 2d 1051, 1054 (Miss. 2004).

In the case of real property, however, the person seeking to set aside a facially valid deed bears the burden of proof. Mullins v. Radcliff, 515 So.2d 1183, 1190 (Miss. 1987).

In the case of a CD titled in the names of two or more persons, payable to any of the persons named, it is presumed that those persons are owners of the account.

In re Last Will and Testament and Estate of Dunn v. Reilly, 784 So. 2d 935, 942 (Miss. 2001) (citing Madden v. Rhodes, 626 So. 2d 608, 616 (Miss. 1993)). “When an account is held jointly in the name of one depositor or another, ‘each depositor is allowed to treat joint property as if it were entirely his own.’” DeJean v. DeJean, 982 So. 2d 443, 449-50 (Miss. App. 2007) (quoting Drummonds v. Drummonds, 248 Miss. 25, 31, 156 So.2d 819, 821 (1963)). That presumption of ownership may be overcome “‘upon proof of forgery, fraud, duress, or an unrebutted presumption of undue influence.’” Reilly, 784 So. 2d at 942 (quoting Madden, 626 So. 2d at 617).

These notes are taken from Judge Griffis’s COA opinion in Yarborough v. Patrick, decided June 7, 2011, at ¶¶ 22-26.

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A FUTURE FREEDOM SUMMER

June 8, 2011 § 13 Comments

I posted here about the events of 1964 Freedom Summer in Meridian.  Mark Levy of New York, director of Meridian’s Freedom School that summer, sent a reply that I posted here.

Mississippi’s history, and by extension that of Meridian, is intertwined inextricably with issues arising out of relations between the races.  The major historical forces that shaped much of the modern south, including the culture of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Populism and the Revolt of the Rednecks, Vardaman and Bilbo, sharecropping and peonage, the great emigration north, Jim Crow, the Klan and lynching, the Civil Rights Movement, the southern strategy, all had race at their root.  It is essential that Mississippians of all races know and understand how these forces evolved and continue to influence us if we hope to know and understand how we can grow beyond them and explore how best to make room for each other in our common life.  The only way to do this is to do it purposefully, with reflection and care, preserving the history so that we will not be doomed to relive its mistakes.

As Mark pointed out in his response, and Richelle Putnam in her comment, the voices of the civil rights era are aging.  Already many of the most significant figures of the Civil Rights Movement have passed.  Who will carry their story and its understanding forward to the leaders of the future?

The year 2014 will be the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer.  Meridian was at the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement in those blastfurnace-hot months.  What better opportunity than the fiftieth anniversary will we have to focus reflection and thoughtful attention on the epochal events of the summer of 1964 as a catalyst for further discourse?

Taking some of Mark Levy’s thoughts as a springboard, I came up with the following modest proposal for an observance of that silver anniversary.  It’s merely a starting point for discussion, and I am sure that there’s much more that can be done.  I propose that between now and the summer of 2014, we do the following:

  • Acquire the Fielder & Brooks building on Fifth Street as the site of a Civil Rights in Meridian interpretive center and museum.  Part of the building could be devoted to the history of black entrepreneurship in Meridian, and specifically in the Fifth Street area.  It could include a re-creation of the old Fielder & Brooks pharmacy.  Upstairs, the COFO Headquarters and Community Center would be re-created, with displays of materials and memorabilia devoted to Freedom Summer and the COFO workers.  Other displays would tell the story of Meridian’s civil rights leaders and accomplishments.  If that building proves to be unavailable, the project could go forward at another site, but a location in the Fifth St. area would serve beneficially as an anchor in an area where so many buildings have been lost.
  • Establish a trail of sites with importance to civil rights in Meridian and make a map available in the interpretive center.
  • Plan an observance of Freedom Summer in 2014, and invite all of the surviving Meridian COFO and other workers who devoted that summer to change.  The event would include reminiscences, lectures, social events, and even worship and singing.  If enough money were available, a noted speaker could keynote and draw attention to the event.  Use the event to promote racial reconciliation and promote discussions about how to establish common ground.  Enlist the schools and colleges to focus course work on these issues in the months leading up to that summer.
  • Establish an organization to gather, preserve, display and promote the materials, artifacts, oral histories and other memorabilia of the Civil Rights Movement in Meridian.  Perhaps one day Meridian could become the site of a Civil Rights Archive.

These are ideas that have been percolating in my head since I read Mark’s response.  I am sure there are many other worthwhile approaches to this, but we have the advantage of time to work toward the goal.  If you have other ideas to share, please feel free to comment.  I will definitely be in touch with those of you who have expressed an interest, as well as others.

This is definitely something I am willing to work to attain.  Will you work with me?

Fielder & Brooks Bldg. looking west across 25th Ave. with 5th St. on the right

View across 25th Ave. from in front of the E.F. Young Hotel

From across 5th St. looking southeast. The door on the far right is 2505 1/2

Holbrook Benevolent Association monument on 5th St., typical of sites for an historical trail

SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS ON VISITATION

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

  • The visitation awarded to the non-custodial parent should be such as will foster a positive and harmonious relationship between parent and child.  Wood v. Wood, 579 So.2d 1271, 1273 (Miss. 1991).
  • The chancellor has broad discretion in fashioning visitation, keeping in mind the best interest of the child, the rights of the non-custodial parent, and the need to maintain a healthy, loving relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child.  Harrington v. Harrington, 648 So.2d 543, 545 (Miss. 1994).
  • The chancellor should specify the terms for visitation.  Lauro v. Lauro, 924 So.2d 584, 591 (Miss. 2006).  The visitation rights should be defined and fixed so as to avoid chaos.  Brown v. Gillespie, 465 So.2d 1046, 1049 (Miss. 1985).
  • Overnight visitation is the rule, not the exception.  Cox v. Moulds, 490 So.2d 866, 870 (Miss. 1986).  The non-custodial parent is presumptively entitled during reasonable times to overnight visitation with the child.  Harrington at 545.
  • The chancellor may place restrictions on visitation in circumstances where there is “an appreciable danger of hazard cognizble in our law.”  Newsom v. Newsom, 557 So.2d 511, 517 (Miss. 1990).  Any restriction must be shown to be necessary to avoid harm to the child.  Dunn v. Dunn, 609 So.2d 1277, 1286 (Miss. 1992); Harrington, at 545; and Howell v. Turnage (Miss. App. 2011), at ¶ 16.  A post discussing Howell v. Turnage is here.
  • In order to modify visitation, all that needs to be shown is that the prior order for visitation is not working, and that modification is in the best interest of the children.  Suess v. Suess, 718 So.2d 1126, 1130 (Miss. App.  1998).

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