The Clarion-Ledger reported Saturday on Thursday’s Mississippi Supreme Court opinion that fined Hinds County Circuit Court Clerk Barbara Dunn $5,000 for problems with her office not mailing Orders to the parties’ lawyers. Here is the opinion.
The case dealt with the clerk’s failure to comply with Miss. R. Civ. P. 77, which requires clerks to serve all Orders and Judgments on the parties (or their attorneys). Ms. Dunn’s office has repeatedly not complied with the rule, despite a prior sanction by the Court. In order to make its point that the rule must be complied with, the Court fined Dunn $5,000 that must be paid from her personal funds.
Justice Kitchens wrote the Court’s unanimous opinion, with Chief Justice Waller not participating.
Good for the Supreme Court. Mississippi attorneys who practice regularly in Hinds County are familiar with this problem.
Here is how it often plays out. One of the circuit judges takes a matter under advisement at a hearing and rules later. It could be days, weeks or months before the judge rules. In one of the judges case in particular, it could be years before he rules (if ever). Except the Clerk does not mail a copy of the Order to the parties, who mistakenly believe that they are waiting on the judge to rule. In the meantime, appeal deadlines can expire, since lack of notice of an Order or Judgment is no excuse.
I like Barbara Dunn, but her office has got to do its job.
Hopefully, other clerks across the state will get the message. Hinds County is not the only clerk’s office with issues. The Hancock County Circuit Clerk has a habit of mailing copies of Orders a few weeks after the judge signs the Order.
These types of problems are inexcusable and I am glad that the Supreme Court sent a strong message that they will not be tolerated.
Here is a sobering comment on the lack of compliance with the rule by Judge Larry Primeaux made today on his blog:
In my experience as a practitioner and as a judge, I know of only one district where Rule 77(d) notices are routinely sent out, and it is not the Twelfth District. On one occasion some years ago, I learned by pure happenstance that the court had entered a final judgment in my case 24 days before, leaving me only six days to confer with my client and decide whether we would appeal.