Monday, March 3, 2008
An attorney retained to represent a grandmother and mother in a child-custody matter was held in contempt of court by the Chancery Court for failure to appear at a hearing, violating a gag order and a youth court confidentiality statute, issuing a subpoena in violation of a subpoena order and filing frivolous pleadings and "otherwise harassing the guardian ad litem and counsel for the father..." The attorney was ordered to pay fines, attorneys' fees and sentenced to jail. The jail sentence had been set aside on a motion for reconsideration.
The Mississippi Supreme Court held that the contemnor was liable for fees and costs of counsel, but remanded for a finding whether the amount awarded for such fees and costs was reasonable. As to the breach of confidentiality, the evidence showed that the client grandmother was given the guardian ad litem's report by the attorney. Grandmother then attached the report to a bar complaint. The court found insufficient evidence of contempt because the client had a right to be informed of the outcome of the hearing. Further, the gag order was too vague to form a basis for contempt. Finally, the chancellor had improperly presided over the subpoena contempt issue because of "personal involvement in the prosecution of this charge." The court ordered a new trial on that aspect of the contempt case. (Mike Frisch)