Bar shows 454 complaints filed against lawyers in 2006

Published 7:25 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2007

George Stapley of Gulfport says a Jackson lawyer either forged his name on a document or used a fraudulent notary signature to take $3,000 from his account while he was incarcerated.

The Mississippi Bar dismissed the complaint after the lawyer produced a certified handwriting analysis showing it was Stapley’s signature on the power-of-attorney document.

The 2005-06 Complaint Statistical Report of the Mississippi Bar shows 454 complaints filed against lawyers, but only a small percentage resulted in formal action. In 2000, 448 complaints were filed against lawyers.

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Of 454 complaints filed against lawyers during the Bar’s last fiscal year, 19 were referred for investigation, three were dismissed, six lawyers were disbarred, five lawyers were suspended, 12 were publicly reprimanded and 14 were privately reprimanded.

The main reasons given for lawyer complaints were lack of communications, neglect of client and ineffective assistance of counsel, Mississippi Bar General Counsel Adam Kilgore said.

“I’m confident the system provides excellent oversight over lawyers,” said lawyer Constance Slaughter-Harvey, a member of the state Complaint Tribunal, which conducts trials and makes decisions on punishments for lawyers.

“Good legal service is needed like good medical service,” Slaughter-Harvey said. “There are so many good lawyers, but for the ones who do not do their job, we want to make sure the public is protected. … I’m confident in saying I will bend over backward to make sure lawyers do their job.”

Of the 454 complaints, 171 — or 38 percent — involved a client in a criminal case.

Lawyer Kevin Camp, the object of Stapley’s complaint, said Stapley was upset over a plea agreement.

“It’s a guaranteed Bar complaint when a client receives more time in a plea agreement than he expected,” Camp said.

Camp said Stapley authorized him to get the $3,000 from his account for attorney fees.

Stapley is trying to revive a federal lawsuit he filed against Camp and others. The U.S. District Court recently dismissed the lawsuit, but Stapley is trying to get the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reopen the case.

There were three disbarments during the period, including one for an Ashland lawyer who pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography. David L. Robinson was sentenced to five years’ probation.

In one case, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a lawyer for four months in 2005 for paying a person to solicit clients for insurance litigation. The man hired by lawyer Albert Turnage contacted 100 potential clients and successfully signed 63 of them.

“Solicitation can result in a diminished status for the lawyer and be harmful to the profession’s reputation,” the court said.

Turnage didn’t contest the charges but argued that, since it was his first offense, a public reprimand would have been sufficient punishment.

Turnage also terminated his relationship with the person he hired to solicit clients.

If a complaint is determined to have merits, the Committee on Professional Responsibility instructs the general counsel to file a formal complaint. Then, there will be a trial before the Complaint Tribunal, which is composed of three lawyers, one of whom is a judge appointed by the state Supreme Court, according to the Bar.

The tribunal acts according to the rules and the laws pertaining to Chancery Courts in Mississippi.

At the conclusion of the trial, the tribunal makes a decision as to what action should be taken. The tribunal may dismiss the case without any discipline, issue a private or public reprimand, or suspend or disbar the lawyer from practicing. Decisions of the Complaint Tribunal may be appealed to the state Supreme Court.