Miss. Supreme Court orders public reprimand for former judge

Published 11:56 pm Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered a public reprimand for former Chancellor Ceola James who violated court rules of conduct that bar a former judge from representing a party in case over which she previously presided.

The Supreme Court said Thursday that the reprimand would take place at the next term of Warren County Circuit Court. The order requires James to report to circuit court when it next meets to have the reprimand read in open court.

James was a chancery judge in the Ninth Chancery District, which is composed of Humphreys, Issaquena, Sunflower, Warren, and Washington counties.

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According to the court record, the case before James beginning in 2001 dealt with child abuse and was brought by a mother seeking court-ordered protection for her child, who had allegedly been physically abused by her husband. James held three hearings in the case, ultimately barring the father from any unsupervised visitation with the child.

In the meantime, the couple had filed for divorce in Yazoo County, which was granted in 2002.

In 2004, James, who had since left the bench, was listed as the attorney for the mother who was seeking a modification of the divorce decree. The opposing lawyer filed to have her disqualified because she presided over child abuse case.

The state Court of Appeals upheld James disqualification. James appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the child abuse matter and the divorce were separate, unrelated cases.

Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., writing Thursday for the Supreme Court, said the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibited an attorney from representing anyone in a case in which the lawyer had participated as a judge.

Diaz said the child abuse petition and divorce action were intertwined. He said the parties were the same, custody issues were raised in both cases, as was visitation.

Diaz said the only way James could have participated in the divorce was if both sides agreed, which they did not.