Thursday, September 9, 2021

An Absolute

The Mississippi Supreme Court has reprimanded a judge who did not wind up his private practice within the required six months

The Commission found no evidence that Judge Watts had acted in bad faith; it found that Judge Watts’s violations resulted from his misinterpretation of the effect of filing motions to continue or withdraw. He acknowledged an awareness of the six-month winddown period. The Commission further found that in one matter in which he appeared at a contested hearing after the wind-down period, his violations resulted from acts of charity, motivated by a desire to help impecunious clients avoid hiring new counsel and paying legal fees they could not afford. They found Judge Watts’s conduct demonstrated error in judgment and an unacceptable lack of diligence. The record is devoid of any evidence that Judge Watts’s violations resulted from any intention to satisfy personal desires, such as receiving money or favors, or that he otherwise acted in a manner indicating any improper personal motive. They found no evidence that Judge Watts received any fees for his filings and, in at least one instance, he paid another lawyer the entire fee he had received so that the case could be concluded.

His ill-advised attempt to offer aid to clients blinded him to his duty to the law, to other jurists, and to parties opposite.


Judge Watts’s failure to abide accordingly requires sanctioning. The Commission found by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Watts violated Mississippi Code Section 9-9-9 by continuing to practice law after the six-month wind-down period and that his violations constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brought the judicial office into disrepute. See Miss. Cons. art. 6, § 177-A. The Commission further found by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Watts’s conduct did not warrant removal from office but that he should be publicly reprimanded and fined $2,500.00. We agree. The six month wind-up period is an absolute. Any action of any nature on behalf of litigants after that deadline is prohibited. Judge Watts has agreed to the Commission’s determination and acknowledged his wrongdoing. This Court thus finds that the Commission’s proposed sanctions are appropriate. Judge Watts should be publicly reprimanded and fined.

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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