January 21, 2019 § Leave a comment

State Holiday

Courthouse closed

Dispatches from the Farthest Outposts of Civilization

January 18, 2019 § Leave a comment

Reprise; Checklists (Again)

January 11, 2019 § Leave a comment

Reprise replays posts from the past that you may find useful today:

THE CHARM OF CHECKLISTS

May 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

For those of you who are relatively new to this blog, I want to call your attention to how crucial it is to put on proof of the various factors that have been mandated by the appellate courts to make your case. It’s a subject I bring up every now and then to make sure that lawyers know about it.

It’s what I call trial by checklist. You can think of the factors as a checklist of what you need to prove to make your case. If you fail to put on proof of the factors, as I have said here many times, you are wasting your and the court’s time, as well as your client’s money, and you are committing malpractice to boot.

Many lawyers print out these checklists and use them at trial. Please feel free to copy these checklists and use them in your trial notebooks. You’re free to copy any post for your own personal use, but not for commercial use.  Lawyers have told me that they are building notebooks tabbed with various subjects and inserting copies of my posts (along with other useful material, I imagine).  Good.  If it improves practice and makes your (and my) job easier and more effective, I’m all for it.

Here is a list of links to the checklists I’ve posted:

Attorney’s fees.

Attorney’s fees in an estate.

Adverse possession.

Child custody.

Closing an estate.

Doing an accounting in a probate matter.

Grandparent visitation.

Equitable distribution.

Income tax dependency exemption.

Modification of child support.

Periodic and rehabilitative alimony.

Lump sum alimony.

Separate maintenance.

Up there on the right is a box labeled “Select Category.” There is a “Checklist” category that will take you to all the posts with and about checklists.

 

 

December 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

State Holiday

Courthouse closed

Next post January 2, 2019

A Fond Farewell

December 28, 2018 § 4 Comments

Today we bid adieu to a host of chancellors who are leaving the bench, most for retirement, some for other careers.

It’s bittersweet to have to say good-bye because I have come to know them all as dedicated, intelligent, honorable, brave, wise, and diligent. Some are studious and serious. Some are carefree and humorous. All are successful.

Those who never go behind the scenes of chancery can not appreciate the relationship between the practitioner and his or her chancellor. Lawyers look to their chancellor for wise counsel, guidance, and a firm hand. They expect the chancellor to hold them to high levels of professionalism. They expect the same when the chancellor is on the bench.

In my 45 years in the law, I have never seen this many judges leave the bench at the same time. We are losing a treasure of wisdom, knowledge, and talent. And so we note our parting with John A. Hatcher, Jr., H. David Clark, II, William H. Singletary, Edward C. Fenwick, Jon Barnwell, Sandy Steckler, Marie Wilson, Jane Weathersby, Johnny L. Williams, M. Ronald Doleac, Jerry G. Mason, Kenneth M. Burns, H. James Davidson, Dorothy W. Colom, Edward E. Patten, Jaye A. Bradley, Michael L. Fondren, V. Glenn Alderson, and John S. Grant.

Best wishes, bon voyage, and good luck.

December 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

State Holiday

Courthouse closed

Next post December 28, 2018

Reprise: You Can’t Represent Both Sides in an I.D. Divorce … Ever

December 14, 2018 § Leave a comment

Reprise replays posts from the past that you may find useful today.

Playing with Dynamite

May 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

If a husband and wife came into your office and wanted you to represent them both in an ID divorce, what would you say? I think, and would hope, that the vast majority of us would decline on ethical grounds and offer to represent only one, not both.

How would it work, anyway, to represent both parties? You could put them in separate rooms and shuttle between. You could run to one room and advise the husband against agreeing to pay any alimony, and then run to another room and advise the wife to hold out until the husband agrees to alimony. Absurd? I’ll say.

Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.7 precludes representation of opposing parties in litigation unless certain conditions are met. Ethics Opinion number 80 of the Bar issued March 25, 1983, makes it clear that joint representation in an irreconcilable differences divorce is unethical:

The Committee is, therefore, of the opinion that the representation of both parties to a no-fault divorce violates the Rule 1.7, MRPC, and that it is, therefore, unethical for a lawyer to undertake such multiple representation.

How to handle it is set out in this language of the Opinion:

There is nothing wrong at all with one of the parties to a No-Fault Divorce being without an attorney, so long as that party, either H or W is properly informed by the spouse’s attorney that (1) that party is not represented by the spouse’s attorney, (2) the spouse’s attorney will not undertake to advise that party on any aspect of the case as to his or her rights, and (3) that party has a right to obtain an attorney to advise him or her and to review any of the agreements, pleadings or decrees which will be prepared. See Rule 4.3, MRPC.

A recent COA case involved dual representation and a challenged outcome. Leta Collins and Kenneth Collins were divorced from each other in 2011. They had filed a joint complaint for divorce on the sole ground of irreconcilable differences. The pleading stated that “The parties together have been represented by [Name of the Attorney], and was signed by that attorney as “Counsel for Leta D. Collins and Kenneth J. Collins.” In the PSA, which was approved by the court, Leta relinquished all interest in Kenneth’s financial assets and retirement.

More than a year later, Leta discovered that she had not known of more than $500,000 in financial assets that Kenneth had at the time of the divorce. She filed a R60 motion, but she did not allege that a fraud had been committed. The chancellor denied the motion, and Leta appealed.

In the case of Collins v. Collins, decided May 5, 2015, the COA affirmed. Judge Fair wrote this for the court:

¶24. Leta argues that the marital property was not equitably distributed because she and Kenneth were represented by the same attorney during the divorce. She alleges that her lack of independent advice and counsel led her to sign the unfair PSA.

¶25. The joint complaint for divorce states “[t]he parties together have been represented by M. Chadwick Smith,” and it was signed by Smith as “attorney for” both parties. Leta testified she and Kenneth believed they were represented by the same attorney. Leta argues this was a direct violation of Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7(a), which prohibits representation of “a client if the representation of that client will be directly adverse to another client,” unless certain conditions are met.

¶26. The chancellor addressed this issue in her findings from the bench, stating that

when Mr. Chadwick Smith came in with his document, the final decree, I inquired of him who he represented because the divorce had the words that Ms. Collins’[s] counsel very ably draws to attention, that he represented both. And he stated, “I only prepared the paperwork, Judge. That’s what it says on there, ‘Prepared by.’” Only after the assurances of Mr. Chad Smith did I accept the parties’ divorce, and I signed the same on the 8th day of June 2011. Thus the allegations that Ms. Collins seeks to present that Mr. Collins committed a fraud on this court are fundamentally vested against Mr. Chad Smith.

¶27. Leta testified that she was the one who had actually prepared the PSA, based on her prior divorce papers, with some contributions from Kenneth. Kenneth likewise testified that Smith did not make any decisions for them. As the chancellor found, if Smith violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by engaging in dual representation, it was not a sufficient basis to modify the divorce decree. This issue is without merit.

What saved the attorney here apparently was that the parties had specifically waived financial disclosures, and it was Leta, and not the lawyer, who prepared the PSA. Both parties acknowledged that the lawyer gave them no advice at all. It did not help Leta’s cause, if you read the rest of the opinion, that it took her a year and some months to seek the court’s assistance.

A few thoughts:

  • Don’t let anything about the peculiar facts in this case mislead you into believing it’s ever okay to represent both parties in an ID divorce. It’s not. Ever. It’s unethical. And if it’s unethical, it can cost you professionally. Don’t do it. Ever.
  • Any lawyer who states on a joint complaint for divorce that he represents both parties is asking for trouble. That in and of itself is a statement admitting an ethical violation.
  • I must be getting old (and I admit I am), but I am seeing more and more of people with JD after their names taking the position that “I only drafted papers for the parties,” or “I simply typed and submitted what they gave me,” or “this is what the client insists on doing.” Whatever happened to lawyers (JD’s)  as counselors at law? Have lawyers gone from being legal advisors and guides to being high-priced clerk-typists? What is the point of having a lawyer when anyone with a word-processing program and a laptop can produce pleadings and an agreement? What is the point of having a lawyer if it is not to obtain legal advice? This trend, particularly among young people with JD after their names troubles me greatly. Notice that I said “JD after their names” and not lawyers. Just because you have JD after your name does not make you a lawyer. What makes you a lawyer is representing, protecting, and looking after the legal interests of a client. If all you’re doing is being a paying customer’s stooge, or acting as their clerk-typist, all you are is a JD, not a lawyer.
  • In this case, the parties themselves acquiesced in this awkward arrangement, which created an excuse for it under MRPC. Had they not, I think Ms. Collins had a legitimate beef, and maybe a viable lawsuit against their joint lawyer. But although it gets the lawyer out of this particular bind, I don’t think that the parties’ acquiescence can excuse this ethical breach. The lawyer, not the parties. has the higher duty and is ethically bound.
  • If you ever draft a joint complaint, make doubly, triply sure that you make it clear which party you represent, and that you have not, and will not provide the unrepresented party with any legal advice, and that she has the right to have attorney advise him or her and to review any of the agreements, pleadings or decrees which will be prepared.
  • Better yet: never, ever, ever, ever file a joint complaint for divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences.
  • And, for Pete’s sake, be an attorney and advise your client. That’s what you went to law school for.
  • Play fast and loose with the ethical rules and you are playing with dynamite.

Runoff Results

November 28, 2018 § 4 Comments

Please post a comment with any information that you have about results in the judicial election runoffs.

Election Day

November 27, 2018 § 5 Comments

It’s runoff day, please go vote.

Tomorrow, if you have info about results in any of the judicial runoff races, please post a comment with your info.

 

November 22, 2018 § Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Holiday

Courthouse closed

Next post November 26, 2018

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