Singing River is back in federal court asking Judge Louis Guirola to stop 152 lawsuits filed by SRHS retirees in the Jackson County Circuit Court. Judge Guirola heard a similar motion in January and decided to take the motion under advisement since the suits had not been served; attorneys Harvey Barton and Earl Denham served the cases last week.
The new circuit court cases are already facing a delay as all three Jackson County Circuit Court judges have recused. The Supreme Court must now appoint a special judge to oversee the cases.
SRHS has filed its response to a Denham and Barton’s Supreme Court appeal. SRHS asks the Court to deny the appeal and to issue sanctions against Denham and Barton for filing three motion in six weeks.
Read the full motion by clicking here.
While all of Jackson County has been paying close attention to the fact that Barry Cumbest has been using elected office to lobby for projects that touch upon lands owned by him and his family, there is another conflict of interest that has been overlooked: he is a member of the putative class in the lawsuit against Singing River Hospital.
The class description defines members as:
[A]ll current and former employees of Singing River Health System who participated in the Singing River Health System Employees’ Retirement Plan and Trust, including their spouses, alternate payees, death beneficiaries, or any other person to whom a plan benefit may be owed.
Barry Cumbest meets this definition due to the fact that his wife, until last year, was employed at Singing River Hospital. As such, she was a participant in the pension plan and Cumbest would be her beneficiary. Continue reading
Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides:
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved.
It was a curiosity that KPMG, who is a defendant along with Transamerica and Singing River, wouldn’t object to judicial officers who had the appearance of impropriety. Likely any doubts KPMG had about Singletary’s ability to impartially execute his duties were assuaged by the fact that he was trying a separate case with KPMG’s attorneys.
KPMG is represented by Taylor McNeel at Brunini. McNeel also represents the Golden Nugget in a lawsuit against the City of Biloxi and the Secretary of State.
Again, you have a situation where a sitting judicial officer continues to allow the appearance of impropriety. The public now has great doubt as to the independence and honor of certain judicial officers. It’s time to restore credibility back to those offices. We again encourage you to file a complaint with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance. It is their job to to assist in enforcing these laws.
To learn how to file a complaint, see our previous article by clicking here.
Singing River has filed their response to the Mississippi Supreme Court on Denham and Barton’s Petition for Sanctions.
You can read it here.
With all of the responses in to the Mississippi Supreme Court, it’s time to start sorting out what exactly happened. The responses are lacking, but we endeavor to distill truth and fact from what has been presented to the Court. They have a tremendous undertaking before them.
We first wish to understand the sequence of events at the meeting. There are two different versions of this. Judge Hilburn’s story follows the pattern A – B – C while almost everyone else follows the pattern A – C – B. The below statements are verbatim excerpts from each response; we have only removed sentences or phrases that were not pertinent to the sequence of events.
- A – I immediately told them there would be no discussion of any state court matters.
- B – I inquired as to the status of the federal court litigation;
- C – I told those present they would not need to appear at the Jackson County Courthouse the next day, that I had prepared an email temporarily staying the state court litigation and canceling the hearing scheduled at 9:00 the next day.
Sessoms & Williams:
- A – Judge Hilburn subsequently arrived, and again it was mentioned that there would be no discussion about the Chancery Court cases.
- B – Plaintiffs’ Counsel, Jim Reeves, who represents clients in the Jones litigation, but not in the Almond litigation […] discussed the Jones Federal Court litigation.
- C -Judge Hilburn announced he was staying all proceedings pending the Federal Court litigation. He also said that he was cancelling the hearing set for 9:00 AM the next day.
Incredibly, Sessoms & Williams response differs from their earlier response to the Court on behalf of SRHS. In that version, Judge Hilburn announced the stay at the beginning of the meeting and not at the end. It appears Sessoms & Williams sequence of events changed after having the benefit of Judge Hilburn’s statement. See below. Continue reading
Reading the response of Special Fiduciary Steve Simpson opens more holes and questions:
- Why does Simpson not mention the orders he asked Judge Hilburn to sign?
- How does a judge hear an oral motion when there is no hearing?
- How did Simpson know to have Hilburn sign the motions at that meeting?
- Were there earlier, deliberative communications amongst the parties?
No Mention of Signed Orders
Though former Circuit Judge Stephen Simpson spends hundreds of words to explain his actions and impugn other attorneys, he makes one glaring omission: he doesn’t bother to inform the Supreme Court that Judge Hilburn signed four (4) separate orders at Simpson’s request. Simpson says that Denham and Barton’s “six cases were not the subject of that meeting.”
Simpson states to the Court that this was a “settlement conference” that had nothing to do with Almond or any other Denham and Barton case. Despite his assertion, Simpson asked Judge Hilburn to issue an order authorizing him to enter into a settlement. Judge Hilburn makes mention of this in his response: Continue reading
In reading the responses to the Miss. Supreme Court, the phrase “missing the forest for the trees” springs to mind. It seems that all parties involved have become so focused on the competing federal and chancery cases, they forget the underlying and undeniable facts. Subsequent to the ex parte hearing, six separate orders were entered in the Almond and Lay cases. These are orders that were a result of action taken at the January 12 meeting.
- Order Granting Motion to Intervene by Special Fiduciary
- Order Authorizing Special Fiduciary Trustee to Enter into Settlement and Release
- Order Authorizing Payment of Special Fiduciary Fees
- Order Approving Invoice for Payment by Parties
- Order Approving Fees and Expenses of Charles J. Mikhail
- E-mail order staying all cases and cancelling hearings
These are facts that are not in dispute. Some lawyers are now making claims which fly in the face of facts and the record of the court. Continue reading
Editor’s note: We are not going to do any analysis or comment on the ex partay until all the kids hand in their homework. In the meantime, the infamous Nunn Yabidnez weighs in on the ex partay, centered around the rule that forbids anyone from “earwigging the Chancellor” or “putting a bug in his ear.” Special note for Scott Taylor and those in Rio Linda: this does not actually mean someone will place an insect in a chancellor’s external auditory meatus.
Hilburn, a STATE appointed special judge, Singletary, the Special Master Hilburn appointed in a STATE case and Simpson, the Special Fiduciary appointed in a STATE case had absolutely no plausible need or arguably valid reason to be at such a meeting, “secret” or otherwise. The attorneys for a few members of a putative class, the Defendants’ attorneys, and reps of some of the Defendants were by their own admissions discussing settlement in a FEDERAL lawsuit that involved the exact same set of facts as the parallel STATE case. Even if none of the attendees intended to “discuss” any state cases, the presence of Hilburn, Singletary and Simpson was at best unnecessary and every attorney there including the judges and attorney/trustee Taylor knew or should have known it was a highly improper clear violation of numerous rules.
With it being a Chancery Court matter at the state, they were operating under not only the Rules of Professional Conduct and/or Code of Judicial Conduct, but also the Uniform Chancery Court Rules. Rule 3.10 states in part:
“No person shall undertake to discuss with or in the presence or hearing of the Chancellor the law or the facts or alleged facts of any litigated action then pending in the Court or likely to be instituted therein, except in the orderly progress of the trial, and arguments or briefs connected therewith.” and “Any person who shall violate this rule, knowing that such conduct is prohibited, shall be guilty of a contempt.” If they did not know Rule 3.10, they are not competent lawyers and if they did, they are guilty violating the rules and guilty of a contempt. Continue reading