Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Comments on the Latest Developments in Mississippi Civil Litigation

Philip is a trial attorney based in Jackson, Mississippi with a diverse civil litigation practice.

$515,000 Jury Verdict in Lamar County Car Wreck Case

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

On Wednesday a Lamar County jury rendered a plaintiff verdict of $515,000 in Boudreaux v. Gororth.

Here the Complaint.

The plaintiff suffered injuries in a collision on I-59 in Lamar County.

Here is the jury’s Verdict.

The jury awarded the following damages:

  • $200,000- pain and suffering;
  • $50,000- emotional distress;
  • $195,000- past and future medical bills;
  • $70,000- lost wages.

Ken Altman with Morris Bart in Gulfport represented the plaintiff. David Morrison with Adcock Morrison in Ridgeland represented the defendant. Judge Anthony Mozingo presided.

My Take:

I don’t know anything about this verdict other than the above. It looks like a huge win for the plaintiff. Lamar County’s reputation is that it is an ultra-conservative venue.

But in most conservative venues there is the occasional big verdict. Just like there are defense verdicts in plaintiff oriented venues like Jefferson County. Uncertainty is what fuels settlements.

Ken Altman is a dedicated student of the art of trial practice and tries his share of cases. His name does not surprise me as a plaintiff lawyer who could get a big verdict in a conservative venue.

Mississippi’s State Motto Should Be ‘The Ironic State’

Posted in Politics in Mississippi

Mississippi- ‘The Hospitality State.’ With that state motto, the joke has always been on us.

That was on full display in Monday’s Clarion-Ledger. The front page contained articles on: (1) the U.S. Supreme Court denying to weigh in on the misguided anti-gay HB 1523 legislation; and (2) trying to stop the brain drain of college grads. That right there is what makes Mississippi ‘The Ironic State.’

Mississippi is an enigma. At the individual level, Mississippians would give the shirts off their backs to help each other out. But these same Mississippians do not trust people who look or act different from them who they do not know personally.

Where else but Mississippi are there so many racist people who have personal friends of the opposite race? Where else are there so many homophobes who have gay friends who they don’t judge?

The racists who say they aren’t racist because they have black friends aren’t lying. They do have black friends. Yet they can still drop the ‘N-bomb’ like it’s 1968. I can’t explain it. I just know it’s true.

It’s just so…damn…frustrating. And ironic.

Mississippi just can’t help but shoot itself in the foot. Last week, it was announced that USM will lose a baseball series due to 1523. That does not bode well for future bids to host regionals and super regionals. More damage and embarrassment on the way. Count on it.

North Carolina has already rolled back it’s 1523-like law in response to backlash like this. Mississippi doesn’t have enough going for it to generate sufficient backlash to get this stupid law repealed.

You can’t say you want to stop millennial brain drain while simultaneously telling gay people they aren’t welcome here. Regardless of your justification for the law, millennials view it as backward-ass and stupid. Given a choice, what young person wants to live in a place they view as backward-ass and stupid?

The Clarion-Ledger article focused on retaining engineering graduates. My daughter graduates from college in May with an engineering degree. She’s already accepted a job in D.C. She will work at a company, and in a city, full of people she already knows from college. I suspect there are plenty of cities where that would have applied. It wasn’t so much that she avoided Mississippi–Mississippi was not even on the interview radar.

My daughter’s story is not unique. I regularly talk to Mississippi lawyers who tell their college aged kids that they need to at least be looking out of state because the opportunities are better. That’s not easy advice for a parent to give. Your instincts prefer your kids to be close to you.

Mississippi needs to stop shooting itself in the foot. It needs to stop being ‘the ironic state.’ Until it does, we have no hope of reversing the brain drain.

Start with the easy stuff. Change the flag. Repeal 1523. Do the right thing. Stop being ironic.

As We Wait on the 5th Circuit Appointment, Another Vacancy Looms

Posted in National Politics, Politics in Mississippi, U.S. District Courts in Mississippi

Without re-opening the debate about whether Mississippi is in danger of losing a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, another vacancy looms.

According to this website, District Judge Louis Guirola will take senior status effective March 23, 2018. That will create a District Judge seat in Gulfport.

I have heard nothing about potential candidates to fill Judge Guirola’s seat. But there is undoubtedly a lot of jockeying taking place behind the scenes.

Most of the state political related gossip is on who will run for what in the statewide elections and whether Senator Thad Cochran will finish his term.

Based on what I’m hearing, some of the key players (Delbert Hosemann, Lynn Fitch) haven’t decided what office to run for next. For most potential candidates, the answer is probably “it depends.” For instance, if this person runs for this, then I would run for this.

If Senator Cochran were to step down this year, it would tip the first domino. Or perhaps the second. Congressman Greg Harper announcing he will not run for re-election might have been the first domino. But we will not know until later.

Changes to the Mississippi Bench On The Way

Posted in Politics in Mississippi

Both Judge Griffis and Judge Primeaux have already posted on their blogs this year about Mississippi’s 2018 judicial races.

Judge Primeaux noted yesterday:

I am hearing that there will be a significant number of positions that will come open by retirement or resignation. In my local courts, for instance, one chancery position will be open due to Judge Mason’s retirement at the end of the year, as will one circuit position due to Judge Williamson’s retirement. Another circuit court slot is being held by an appointee who must stand for election, as is one county court position. Of course, all trial judges in office stand for election this year and may face opposition.

When a judge writes “I am hearing“, you can book it. Judges hang out together at judicial conferences and probably talk regularly to trade stories about goofball interesting lawyers practicing in their courts.

Meanwhile, Judge Griffis linked the Secretary of State’s website that identifies who has signed up to run in 2018, identified the 2018 races for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals seats and posted about Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill’s recent announcement that he will not seek reelection.

It will be interesting to see who runs for Judge Weill’s seat. I’m putting the over/under on candidates at 4.

The deadline for signing up to run is May 11. The people who pay the most attention to the qualifier list are probably sitting judges looking to see if they draw an opponent.

I can’t recall another year with this much expected turnover on the state court bench. It should be interesting.

A Look at the 2016 Mississippi Bar Economic Survey

Posted in General

The Mississippi Bar issued the results of its 2016 economic survey last week. You can review the complete survey results here. You can review results from surveys in 2014, 2012, and 2010 here.

You can read my blog post on the 2014 survey here. It appears notable trends from 2014 continue.

419 attorneys responded to the survey. I consider this a decent sample size, but note that the attorneys who take the time to respond to something like this are probably more engaged than average. You should remember that when viewing some of the results.

Here are some results that I found interesting:

  • 47.2% believe professionalism among lawyers has decreased in past 5 years (same as 2014).
  • personal income dropped from $141,768 to $126,553. The 2014 survey reflected a drop from $159,612.
  • secretary salaries dropped about 10%.
  • legal assistant salaries barely dropped.
  • 82% have enough or too much work.
  • 33.8% expect demand to decrease in next 5 years.
  • 29.4% get no or too little satisfaction from practicing.
  • 41.5% would not become a lawyer again.
  • only 24.6% perceive the economic future for their law practice as worse.

My Take:

I disagree that professionalism decreased in the past 5 years. It seems about the same, perhaps even improved. Professionalism took a hit when everyone started using email in the late 90’s. Attorneys were trigger happy in firing off scathing emails and didn’t appreciate the tone of their emails. That’s gotten a lot better.

In the last four years personal income has dropped nearly 30% from $159,612 to $126,553. Uh, that’s a lot.

Legal assistant salaries are probably holding steady because good legal assistants are hard to replace.

82% of attorneys having enough or too much work doesn’t match with what attorneys tell me ‘on the street’ or what I perceive in the market in hiring and firm size.

I suspect the percent of attorneys who get little or no satisfaction from practicing would be higher in attorneys who didn’t respond to the survey.

41.5% saying they wouldn’t become attorneys again is notable. If every attorney in Mississippi responded to the survey, I suspect the number would be over 50%.

My question is when did this become the trend? My estimate is after 2000. I read something in the book The Chickenshit Club about the profession starting to change in the 1980’s (if my recollection is correct) with more of a focus on making money and less on professionalism and service.

The actual percent of attorneys who have a worse future economic outlook is a lot higher than 24.6%. It’s probably higher than 75%. Personal income is down 30% in four years, but the future economic future will be the same or better? In an industry that is shrinking overall and concentrating in areas outside Mississippi? In a state that is losing population?

Sorry, but the future economic outlook for law practices in Mississippi is worse. This means you.

This reminds me of the first year of law school when almost everyone thought they would finish in the top 10%. 90% were wrong. Most people think they are different. But most people are not different.

I try to be a realist. A law volume solo litigation practice like mine is an endangered species. There are much fewer of us around than there were when I left big law in 2002 and the numbers are still shrinking. My perception of the future economic outlook of my law practice is worse. I hope I’m wrong–but that’s an honest assessment of the odds.

The fact more attorneys are not pessimistic about their economic future says something about human nature.

PERS Releases 2017 Financial Reports

Posted in PERS Crisis

Mississippi PERS has released its 2017 financial reports. There is a popular summary report (8 pages) and a comprehensive report (188 pages). Here are links to the reports:

Despite robust stock market performance and 63% of the assets invested in equities, PERS’ funding level barely increased–from 60 to 61.1%.

Meanwhile, the number of retirees drawing money from the system continues to increase as the number of PERS participants decreases as Mississippi shrinks state government.

PERS is a crisis that will become a disaster if the Board of Trustees and state government continue to basically ignore the problem. These problems are not a secret. They are hiding in plain site in the reports.

I hope to have more to say about the reports in a future post.

My Favorite Books I Read in 2017

Posted in Book Reviews

I enjoyed writing the post on my favorite books of 2016 and am repeating it in 2017.

This is my list for the year, in the order that I read them. Note that the books weren’t necessarily released in 2017. I also updated the list throughout the year as a read the books instead of compiling as list at the end of the year.

To put it in context, I read approximately 40 books in 2017.

I read several books before one made the list. It was February before I hit one I consider 5-stars.

Here are this year’s favorites:

  • American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant– my first Grant biography. I under-appreciated him. From selling firewood in the streets of St. Louis to commander of the Union army and then President all in an 8 year span. Think about that the next time you pass a guy selling firewood on the side of the road. I’ve been a Sherman fan (who was way ahead of his time) since reading his memoirs in college. Now I see why Sherman was a Grant fan. After reading this, I now rank the big 4 like this: 1. Jackson; 2. Grant; 3. Sherman; 4. Lee. Jackson has a huge advantage by dying before Gettysburg, which was an unmitigated debacle for Lee. If Jackson makes it to 1865, he probably suffers defeats that drop his ranking.
  • The Futures– highly praised, I bought it because Amazon ran it on a kindle daily deal. It’s a novel about a couple who were Yale graduates moving to NYC in 2008 as the financial markets crashed. One worked for a hedge fund. The other had an affair. Having just finished the Grant book, I was prepared to dislike this novel. An author 20 years younger than me, Ivy Leaguers, NYC, investment bankers–not my cup of tea. But one of the joys of reading is when an author connects with you when you didn’t expect it. That happened here. I will buy Anna Pitoniak’s next book no matter what it’s about.
  • The Impossible FortressAnother novel, this one about teenagers in the 1980’s. How could I not love it? Reminds me of Ready Player One, but less plot and more character driven. I read this book at the end of March during a time period when I was struggling to get into the books I was reading. This book kind of made that problem worse, since I read it in a few days and had to return to my slog reads.
  • Armada– fun read by author of one of my favorite books: Ready Player One. Aliens invading earth is not an original plot, but still a fun read.
  • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate– Wow. This one really went up in flames. But worth the read just for the exchange with Lyndsey Graham about the latter’s presidential run. Makes you like Graham.
  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future– Great book about the man behind Tesla and SpaceX. Interestingly, he’s just as big of an a-hole as Jobs and Bezos. A good title of a book about the richest self-made men of the last 60 years would be “Warren Buffet and a Bunch of A-holes.”
  • When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital Management– 2001 book about the 1998 collapse of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management. The hubris of LTCM’s partners reminded me of lawyers in Mississippi (plaintiff and defense) during the boom of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
  • Dark Money the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer- I postponed reading this for a year because I knew it would be depressing. And it was. You can’t understand modern politics at the national, state and sometimes local level without reading this book.
  • Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street, by Sheelah Kolhatkar- good luck sleeping at night with your retirement in the stock market after reading this book.
  • Hue 1968: A Turning Point for the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden- a city battle in a war known for jungle fights. Bowden is a great writer.
  • Note: I hit a real dry spell for books making the list after reading Hue.
  • Two Kinds of Truth, by Michael Connelly, – Harry Bosch infiltrates an opioid pill ring and his brother Mickey Haller (Lincoln Lawyer) helps get him out of a wrongful conviction frame-up. This is my favorite Connelly book and I’ve read most of them.
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris- This is 2001 book that won a Pulitzer Prize. I’ve never read anything on T.R. because the turn of the century didn’t interest me much until I went on a Churchill binge. But this is a great book about an interesting man. If he was born 30 years later he might have been America’s Churchill. Both had overpowering personalities and had interesting lives from cradle to grave.

The two books that came the closest to making the list but didn’t were John Grisham’s Camino Island (unique, non-legal thriller and entertaining, but a little slow) and Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard (already knew the story from Churchill biographies).

Good reading.

December Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter Preview

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

Here is a preview of the December 2017 issue of the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter:

  • $200,000 verdict- Warren County real property/ strict liability case (10/31/17);
  • $25,000 verdict- Forrest County car wreck case covered here (10/30/17);
  • $20,000 verdict- Jackson federal court slip-and-fall case (11/29/17);
  • plaintiff verdict- Hinds County insurance coverage issue (11/8/17);
  • defense verdict- Oxford federal court FMLA retaliation case (11/15/17);
  • defense verdict- Rankin County medical malpractice case (9/29/17); and
  • defense verdict- Hattiesburg federal court copyright infringement case (11/8/17).

My Take:

A lot of lawyers think that I publish or am associated with the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter. I am not.

I have no connection to the publication other than being a loyal reader. It’s a great publication and my personal opinion is that all Mississippi litigators should read it, but that’s it.

On a related point, since MJVR is not my publication, I don’t provide any information from it beyond what’s in the monthly preview, which I post with the consent of the publisher. If I hear about and cover a verdict on my own, I link the post in the summary. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy your own copy to get more information on the reported verdicts.

I don’t respond to questions about the reported verdicts. But the answers are almost always in the MJVR.

Some Politicians No Longer Ignoring PERS Crisis

Posted in PERS Crisis

As 2018 comes to a close, its getting harder for Mississippi politicians to ignore the PERS crisis. And some are not. The Sun Herald reported recently on Coast lawmakers Brice Wiggins and Michael Watson acknowleding the elephant in the room. From the article:

Lawmakers who bring up the Public Employees Retirement System do so at their own peril, members of the Coast delegation said, but they say it needs to be brought up anyway.

“We have to have that conversation,” Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, told the crowd at the Pre-Legislative Briefing hosted by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce. “When Sen. Tindell filed a bill, he got death threats. That’s crazy. In his case, he was trying to tweak it, to make it better able to do what Sen. (Michael) Watson was saying, extend it.”

Watson and Wiggins told the 200 or so people at the Golden Nugget earlier this week that part of the problem is PERS officials paint too rosy a picture of the state of the retirement fund.

“The executive director comes to the Finance Committee every year,” said Watson, a Pascagoula Republican. “And I literally ask just about the same question every year. And every single year, the answer is the same: We’re going to be fine; everything is OK.

“That’s what we’re fighting. You get the executive director of PERS sending out letters to all retirees, Everything’s fine. And the Legislature over here says, wait a minute, everything is not fine.”

And Watson said he’s talked to experts in the banking and pension industries who agree with the lawmakers.

“We’re in trouble,” he said. “We signed a contract. We can’t unilaterally back out of that contract. What we can do is rework the contract with two willing parties.”

The problem is clear. PERS doesn’t have enough money to pay all the present and future retirees.

My Take:

Kudos to Wiggins and Watson.

Everything is not fine. That is said in the context of comparing Mississippi’s PERS crisis to other public pensions, which are also in an under-funded crisis. The passengers on the Titanic were not fine because others were on the same boat.

Mississippi is shrinking its government. Debate all you want about whether it should–but it’s a fact. Shrinking government payroll lowers PERS contributions. Pair that with the system’s unrealistic investment assumptions, and pretty much all experts agree that the crisis will get worse.

This is like a lot of problems. The fix gets more expensive the longer you wait to address the problem. Hoping lighting strikes in the investment markets isn’t a plan. It’s a prayer that’s unlikely to be answered.

Mississippi does not have the money to cover a huge PERS deficit. Adjustments to the system have to be made. This is not an issue that will only impact PERS participants. If you pay state taxes, your money is in play. The legislature needs to get on this in January.

My Take on Trump Visit to Mississippi

Posted in Politics in Mississippi

President Trump was in Jackson Saturday for the opening of the Civil Rights and Mississippi Museums. Here are my thoughts:

Paved streets— Trump’s visit got us some streets paved downtown. The streets the motorcade came down were paved in the 1-2 weeks before Saturday. The Pearl Street off-ramp, Jefferson St. and Amite St. were all paved. I assume it was a Secret Service requirement related to the POTUS vehicles. But who cares? Jackson should have a standing request to the sitting President to serve as grand marshal of all parades.

Governor Bryant was right— On the news last week I saw Governor Bryant saying that regardless of Trump’s divisive rhetoric, the coverage from his visit would be a net positive for the museums and Mississippi. He was right. The visit was covered live on the national news channels and left the impression that the museums are a big deal. That’s good for Mississippi and Jackson.

Trump respects Governor Bryant— I’ve noted before that Trump should be grateful to Bryant because he was one of his first mainstream Republican supporters. Trump’s demeanor, speech and fact he stayed on script suggests he did not want to do anything that would make Bryant look bad for inviting Trump here.

Mayor Lumumba handled the visit well— Notwithstanding the above comments, I can’t disagree with Mayor Lumumba’s decision to skip the event and conduct a press conference nearby.

Protestors made a misstep— The Trump protestors were lined up on High Street. The motorcade came down Pearl Street. Pre-event scouting would have revealed that was a possibility–perhaps even likely give how hard it is to pave streets.

Event organizers did a great job— From the television coverage I saw this looked like a first rate event. Reuben Anderson as the master of ceremonies was a good choice, as was including Myrlie Evers and Governor Winter. Having Evers on the stage is a stark reminder that this wasn’t that long ago. I wish my neighbor and Civil Rights pioneer Duncan Gray Jr. had lived long enough to attend.