June 20, 2008
An Untrustworthy Employee
The Mississippi Supreme Court declined to adopt a proposed one-year retroactive suspension and remanded the bar discipline matter for consideration of the proper sanction. The court also found an ethical violation of Rule 5.5(b)(aiding unauthorized practice).
The attorney had employed a former inmate at Parchman Penitentiary (made famous by John Grisham) as a paralegal "on his reputation as a successful writ writer while at Parchman, and his potential ability to generate business for [the lawyer's] firm." An inmate serving a life sentence was assisted by the paralegal in filing a pro se state habeas corpus petition. The unhappy client filed a bar complaint against the lawyer, who testified that she was unaware of the matter and had been taken advantage of by the paralegal. The lawyer also had lost files in an office move and lost the keys to other file drawers that "remain locked because she lost the keys."
As to the files, the attorney did not violate confidentiality rules because there was no evidence that client files were disclosed. There was insufficient evidence that the lawyer indicated that the paralegal "had authority to communicate her consent to undertake the representation of a client." However, the attorney had failed to properly supervise the paralegal and assisted in his unauthorized practice of law. The court's remand order indicates a view that the proposed one year suspension is insufficient. (Mike Frisch)
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