At 10:00 a.m., an en banc Court held a second show cause hearing in the Vicksburg Healthcare case.
Jackson Jambalaya has posted the videotape of the hearing.
Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC d/b/a River Region Health System v. Clara Dees; Warren Circuit Court; LC Case #: 10,0151-CI; Ruling Date: 01/22/2013; Ruling Judge: Isadore Patrick, Jr.; Disposition: Attorney Michael E. Winfield shall appear before this Court on Thursday, July 24, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. and show cause, if any he can, why he should not be held in contempt for failing to pay timely to the Clerk of this Court the sanctions imposed in the May 2 order. Winfield shall file a response to Vicksburg Healthcare’s Motion to Hold Appellee in Contempt and Second Motion to Hold Appellee in Contempt on or before July 14, 2014. Counsel for Vicksburg Healthcare shall appear at the show-cause hearing on Thursday, July 24, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. and present Vicksburg Healthcare’s Motion to Hold Appellee in Contempt and Second Motion to Hold Appellee in Contempt. Winfield is hereby given notice that a finding of contempt could result in one or more of the following: (1) having the Appellee’s Brief struck; (2) entry of a judgment in favor of Vicksburg Healthcare; (3) an order that he pay the entire $2,586 in attorney’s fees incurred by Vicksburg Healthcare; (4) suspension or disbarment; or (5) incarceration until Winfield purges himself of contempt. A copy of this order shall be forwarded to Winfield’s client, Clara Dees, at the mailing address provided by Winfield to the Clerk of this Court. Order entered.
If you remember, the first show cause hearing was set for 1:30 on April 30. 1:30 rolled around and the lawyers for Vicksburg Healthcare were there but no Michael Winfield. The justices apparently asked Kathy Gillis (the then clerk) to call Winfield. She did and Winfield was in Canton helping a client who called him about a last minute meeting with the school board. Winfield told Gillis he had forgotten about the show cause hearing. When he did show up late, instead of apologizing, Winfield continued to make things worse for himself. The Court eventually ordered that the brief filed on behalf of Dees on February 26, 2014 at around 9 p.m. with the guard’s office that doesn’t appear on the docket and wasn’t served on the Appellant would be accepted. The $500 fine for being late to the April 30 hearing was to be paid at $100 a month starting June 1. Winfield was also to pay $1500 in expenses to Vicksburg Healthcare’s lawyers at $100 a month. Also, Winfield was to report to the Miss. Judges and Lawyers’ Assistance Program within ten days. Since the Court cannot force him to do this, if he does not do this the Court will have the transcript of the hearing sent to the Miss. Bar to do with it as it sees fit. A copy of the order was to be sent to Ms. Dees.
Ok. It is 9:59 and I don’t see ANYONE there. I was wrong. The lawyers were just sitting behind the bar. The hearing has commenced.
THE FOLLOWING IS NOT VERBATIM (I am not a court reporter).
J. Waller asks if Clara Dees is there. M.W. says that she is not there. She is in the hospital.
J. Waller lists the possible sanctions including incarceration and asks M.W. whether he has an attorney with him. M.W. says no.
J. Randolph is to make an opening statement summarizing the proceedings thus far.
J. Randolph – this started when J. King ordered you to file the Appellee’s brief within 14 days of Feb. 5. This did not happen. Then Randolph, King and Kitchens set a show cause hearing. That was the day you did not appear on time. The Clerk called you and you said you forgot. AT the end of that, we ordered you to talk to MLAJAP which we know that you did via a letter from them. We have learned, though, that you have not paid the assessments we ordered. The response you filed yesterday, which was supposed to be filed July 14, asks that the Appellants pay sanctions because you say they did not serve you with the motions for sanctions. Clara Dees has written a letter to the Court stating that you won’t return her phone calls. We’ve also learned you filed a brief that contains two pages from another brief you filed that was supposed to be confidential and those two pages reveal the names that were to be confidential.
M.W. – I apologize to counsel opposite and the members of the bench. My failure to pay in May or June was not meant in disrespect. My understanding the court’s [understanding] of my hardship. When I came here the first time I was $10,000 behind with my bank. I already had faced foreclosure and I saved t hat at the last minute. The Appellant’s filing in May. I got notice via e mail but not the motion. I thought the Appellant would send me a copy of the motion. (Apparently M.W. could not figure out how to retrieve documents from the website (even I can do that)).
I also had a purge order in a support case in Alabama.
J. Waller: you understand how to access documents on the court’s website now.
J. Kitchens: WHen you got the e mail message, it told you what the motion was? Did you call the clerk or opposing counsel and ask for a copy?
M.W. No. I knew it was about money and I was waiting for money to come in.
J. Kitchens: But you knew that we expected those installments to be paid. But when you didn’t send teh money you didn’t call anyone. It diodn’t occur to you that we would think you were ignoring us again?
M.W.: yes. But I thought the money was coming in.
J. Randolph: When a client comes to you and says I can’t pay my child support do you just tell them not to do anything or do you advise them to let the court know.
M.W. clients don’t usually come to you until the contempt is already filed.
Justice Randolph: Why did you not file a response until yesterday?
M.W. I was trying to get a copy of the purge order.
J. Randolph: you seem to do things on your own time rather than complying with the dates the court sets.
On page 7 of the motion you filed, you accuse the APpellant’s attorneys of making false misrepresentations.
M.W. – the certificate of service says the documents was served on me and it wasn’t done. Last week when I made a payment, I asked the lawyer personally. I asked him to give me a copy. He said no, he had already e mailed me a copy. I waited. WHat that brought out is Ex. B. to my response.
When they asked me for a copy of something because the copy on the court’s website wasn’t legible, I faxed it. But he refused to provide me a copy. The secretary tried to explain to me how to get it off the website.
I’ve had difficulty making monthly payments but when money does come in I usually make lump sum payments.
J. Randolph: the letter from your client – you say she is in the hospital. SHe says you won’t return her phone calls. Do you dispute that?
M.W. – I have communicated with Ms. Dees many times. Now there are many times she has called and I can’t talk to her. The last phone no. I had for her was disconnected. Her live in boyfriend passed. WHen he died she moved from Rolling Fork to Memphis. WHen I called last night, I got her daughter who said Ms. Dees was in the hospital. Ms. Dees called me later and I told her I was disappointed in what she said in the letter. SHe told me she didn’t write that letter. SHe just signed it. I have communicated with her several times since April 30. I apologized to her and she apologized to me.
J. Dickinson: I’m concerned with whether or not you think you have done anything wrong and are you sorry about it?
M.W. I am extremely apologetic and remorseful for my failure to comply with the court’s deadlines and orders. I do believe I have done some things that are wrong. I have the utmost respect for this Court. After my father passed, I was offered a job to clerk at this Court.
J.Dickinson: What things do you think you have done wrong?
M.W. I am guilty of all the issues before the court. I did not pay in May or on June 1. That was not my intention and it wasn’t done out of a lack of respect. I end up doing a lot of involuntary pro bono work (you’re not alone there). One case, I was defending a capital murder case in Meridian and I got $10,00 less than what I quoted. The parents made a lot of false promises to pay but I told their son that I didn’t know what his parents had told them about their hiring a lawyer. I have primarily a criminal practice. The biggest challenge is my office is in Warren County and 85% of the cases are given to the public defender. And I get appointed but you get a max of $10000 a case. Last week my lights were cut off. I got them turned on again.
J. Dickinson: if you have mostly criminal cases, people are facing jail. When you have deadlines you can’t meet, you have to contact the court and the other parties and you don’t seem to think that that is very important based on your actions here. The concern is that your clients don’t end up in jail just because of your personal problems.
M.W. In paying $2000 in sanctions to the Court, I have learned. But criminal defense is very different from med. mal, personal injury. You have your omnibus hearing, your arraignment, your trial date. My success rate, part., murder cases, rivals probably anyone in the state. I’ve only lost one.
J. Randolph – was there a Hinds COunty forfeiture case where you failed to appeal
M.W. – that was a scheduling conflict. ANd I did the research and realized we did not have a case.
Lamar: did you dismiss it.
J. Kitchens: you abandoned it, didn’t you? We were aghast on April 30 when you said you didn’t file a brief in this case because you had this great case and you lost it in the appellate court and so you had to prioritize on that basis and it wasn’t a priority to pursue a case here. It is all about money with you, it seems. You failed to file a brief because you prioritized based on your chances of success and because of your experience in this court in the past meant you were going to let Ms. Dees’ case slide. In the Hinds forfeiture, they called you and asked you what you were going to do, you didn’t bother to call them back. We’re worried about whose cases you have neglected in the same vein as the cases we are talking about today. You don’t seem to realize your law practice is more about your clients then it is about you?
M.W. Yes. I talked to my forfeiture client Othario Barnes and told him why he didn’t have a case.
J. Kitchens: It seems like someone is always having to call you to find out what you are going to do.
M.W. I researched Ms. Dees case and it didn’t seem as good as I thought.
J. Kitchens: you seem to think if you ignore stuff it will go away.
M.W. when I first started practicing I did miss some hearings but that was some time ago. But I keep my own calendar.
J. Kitchens: Well, that doesn’t seem to be working for you. Since April 30, you have missed paying the installments, you missed the filing on July 14. ANd you never called anyone and said you could not make the deadline.
J. Dickinson: have you sought any help in conducting your business? How do you operate your law practice. I am by myself but no secretary. I went to the Lawyers Assistance. He gave me some advice and tips. I didn’t know that existed.
J. Lamar: there seems to be a pattern, lots of excuses, lots of personal problems. It is an honor and privilege to practice law in this state and it seems to me you have abused that privilege and I don’t know if you grasp that your ability to continue is in jeopardy at this point. You are flying by the seat of your pants and nothing has changed since you were last before the court. You seem to think these orders are mere suggestions. When you file a forfeiture action without doing research and you later realize that the law is bad, you do nothing. I haven’t heard anything today that makes me think you are going to get hold of your personal life or your practice so that your clients aren’t in trouble. I haven’t heard one thing from you today to make me think you are going to do any differently.
M.W. I’ve made a loooot of changes in my personal life. I’m divorced recently. That was due to my own actions and poor decisions. Was charged with domestic abuse and I did not do that.
J. Lamar: I don’t want to hear about that. Convince me you are going to do something different tomorrow.
M.W. I have a new girlfriend now and that’s the only person I’m involved with. But that frees up a lot of time.
J. Chandler: What J. Lamar asked is how are you going to change?
M.W. I am here fighting to keep my practice. I have made changes in my personal life.
J. King: Tell me EXACTLY what you have done wrong and what have you learned. Not about your personal life.
M.W. I failed to make three scheduled payments. I did not timely file my response to the other side’s motion. What was the 2d question?
J. King: WHat have you learned?
M.W. I’ve learned these deadlines are important. But I know that I can catch these payments up. I know now that I should have filed a motion for relief when I couldn’t pay it. But I thought I could pay it in a reasonable time frame.
J. Waller: is that responsive to J. King?
J. Waller announces a recess until 11:15.
Cliff Whitney representing Vicksburg Hospital speaks. We’ve heard a lot of excuses. There were three payments to my clients that were missed.
J. Pierce: why didnpt you give him a copy of these motions as a courtesy.
CW: when he came in to my office he was arrogant, he was rude to my staff.
J. Pierce: I withdraw the question.
J. Dickinson: Has your client been prejudiced.
C.W. just the general delay. The brief filed by M.W. out of time should be struck. M.W. told you a minute ago he doesn’t have a case. The motion he filed against me, the court has e filing procedures that deem things filed when they are e filed with the court. For him to claim there was some sanctionable event that happened in my office is a fabrication.
J. Lamar: what are you asking the court to do?
C.W: hold him in contempt, strike his brief, reverse and render. Increase the attorney fee award that the panel found to be legitimate- approx. $2800.
M.W. I was polite and mannerable when I went to C.W’s office. There was no arrogance.
I have contacted two attorneys, Travis Vance and Marshall Sanders, to give me guidance and mentor me. I plan to do that.
The hearing ends with the Court taking the case under advisement.