Vacancies

The Spring Trial and Appellate Judges Conference has been held this week.  With judicial elections next year, there will be plenty of discussion about judicial elections.  There are a number of judges that plan to retire by resigning early or not running for reelection next year.

The first date to watch is June 30.  Under PERS, it’s my understanding that a person must be retired, or in the system, for one fiscal year before they draw the coveted 13th check.  This is an incentive to retire in June rather than later in the year.   I expect that there will be a few judges who announce their retirement and resign before June 30th.  I’ve heard talk of at least one who has already made this decision.

The second date to watch is December 31st.  With the qualifying period between January and May, the judges that decide not to run next year will most likely announce their intentions before December 31st so that potential candidates have plenty of time to decide if they want to run.  I’ve heard talk of at least 10 judges who have made this decision already.

Law School v. Bar Exam v. Admission

There are several posts about the February Bar Results.  The question today is – do we trust our law schools to produce quality lawyers?  Heck, do we trust the bar exam to decide whether someone is qualified to practice law?

I don’t think we do.  Otherwise, why would we also have Continuing Education Rule 3(b):

RULE 3. CLE REQUIREMENT

b. Each attorney newly licensed to practice law in the State of Mississippi, from and after August 1, 2015, shall, by the conclusion of the second CLE year occurring after their date of admission to The Mississippi Bar, attend or complete a new-lawyer program approved by the Commission on Continuing Legal Education, which shall be comprised of a total of twelve (12) actual hours of CLE to include six (6) hours of basic skills training and six (6) hours of ethics/professionalism. Completion of the new-lawyer program shall satisfy the requirement of subsection (a) of this Rule for such newly licensed attorney for both the CLE year of admission and the next succeeding CLE year.

I think the answer to my questions is that we don’t.  You can see through many posts, I believe we are being suffocated by Rules.  Here is an example.  You’ve passed law school, you’ve passed the bar, and we say you have to “pay for” and sit through 6 more hours so that we can be double dog sure you are qualified.  Belts and suspenders.

After she meets with the students and faculty at Ole Miss, I believe new Dean needs to come talk to the Supreme Court and they need to work though some of these issues.  Likewise, the new Dean at MC needs to have these discussions when he/she is named next year.

We have to earn the public’s confidence, and we must make the path to a Bar license less expensive but producing a higher quality lawyer.

Bar Exam Results

I scheduled a post today that was just a general comment on the Bar Exam results.  Philip Thomas’s Mississippi Litigation Review cited an Above the Law article.   It was critical of our State, and our law schools.  Unfairly so, in my opinion.

Dean Debbie Bell released the following statement:

Dear law school community,

A recent Above the Law column implied that only 36% of Mississippi’s first-time bar exam takers passed the February 2017 bar exam. That is inaccurate. Furthermore – our students’ first-time pass rate for the year was 72.6%.

The ATL article stated that only 36% of the state of Mississippi takers passed the February bar exam, compared to Florida’s 57.7% pass rate. The article compares apples to oranges. Florida’s 57.7% pass rate was for first-time takers. Mississippi’s first-time pass rate for February 2017 was also 57.7%. Thirty-six percent was the overall pass rate, which included almost as many retakers as first-time takers. And for UM Law first-time takers, the pass rate was 60%.

Furthermore, the Mississippi February bar numbers are small — 87 takers. The best annual comparison for small population states like Mississippi is to look at the year’s total.

For the 2016-17 year, Mississippi’s pass rate for all first-time takers was 66.7%. AND OUR STUDENTS’ PASS RATE FOR THE YEAR WAS 72.6%. While this is lower than our traditional pass rate and we want to improve it, it is a far cry from 36%.

In contrast to most law schools, the University of Mississippi has not lowered admissions standards, as the author of the ATL article speculates. We have great confidence in our students’ abilities and are proud of their accomplishments.

Debbie Bell

My personal view is that there are too many variables in play to assess the February Bar results.  The Bar Admissions staff should release statistics to make sure the public can examine at apples-to-apples.  There is a big difference between first time takers and repeat takers, in my humble opinion.

I’ve heard that there has been a lot of discussion among the supreme court justices about the future of the bar exam.  Some want to go back to the diploma privilege, some want to adopt the UBE, and some want to leave it as it is.  I do not expect any change.

For what it is worth, this may be the first time in history that the Supreme Court is made up of a majority of members who HAD to take the bar exam.  In years past, and I may be wrong, the majority of the Supreme Court Justices were admitted under the diploma privilege.

My concern is that the bar exam has spawned an industry of “bar review” courses and additional costs for students.  The cost of the bar exam and these courses add about $5,000 to the “cost” of a bar license or the “price of admission” to the bar.  If we are going to review our law schools based on their pass rate, let’s make sure there are professionals on the Board of Bar Admissions

Ole Miss and Miss. College do an excellent job preparing students for law practice.  With two new Deans at the law schools, I hope there will be some discussion between the law schools and the court about the future of the Bar Exam.

I wish the best to our new members of the Bar.

Courthouse closed

Notice of Holiday Closure on Monday, April 24, 2017

All offices in the Carroll Gartin Justice Building, 450 High St., Jackson, MS
39201, will be closed to the public on Monday, April 24, 2017, for the Confederate
Memorial Day holiday.

What would happen if there was an uproar over this holiday and we had to work on this holiday?  I’ll be at work today.

Domestic Violence – Ground for Divorce

After SB 2680, the following are the grounds for divorce in Mississippi.

Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-1. Divorces from the bonds of matrimony may be decreed to the injured party for any one or more of the following twelve (12) causes:

First. Natural impotency.

Second. Adultery, unless it should appear that it was committed by collusion of the parties for the purpose of procuring a divorce, or unless the parties cohabited after a knowledge by complainant of the adultery.

Third. Being sentenced to any penitentiary, and not pardoned before being sent there.

Fourth. Willful, continued and obstinate desertion for the space of one (1) year.

Fifth. Habitual drunkenness.

Sixth. Habitual and excessive use of opium, morphine or other like drug.

Seventh. Habitual Cruel and inhuman treatment, including spousal domestic abuse.

Spousal domestic abuse may be established through the reliable testimony of a single credible witness, who may be the injured party, and includes, but is not limited to:

That the injured party’s spouse attempted to cause, or purposely, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to the injured party, or that the injured party’s spouse attempted by physical menace to put the injured party in fear of imminent serious bodily harm; or

That the injured party’s spouse engaged in a pattern of behavior against the injured party of threats or intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, sexual extortion or sexual abuse, or stalking or aggravated stalking as defined in Section 97-3-107, if the pattern of behavior rises above the level of unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection.

Eighth. Having mental illness or an intellectual disability at the time of marriage, if the party complaining did not know of that infirmity.

Ninth. Marriage to some other person at the time of the pretended marriage between the parties.

Tenth. Pregnancy of the wife by another person at the time of the marriage, if the husband did not know of the pregnancy.

Eleventh. Either party may have a divorce if they are related to each other within the degrees of kindred between whom marriage is prohibited by law.

Twelfth. Incurable mental illness. However, no divorce shall be granted upon this ground unless the party with mental illness has been under regular treatment for mental illness and causes thereof, confined in an institution for persons with mental illness for a period of at least three (3) years immediately preceding the commencement of the action. However, transfer of a party with mental illness to his or her home for treatment or a trial visit on prescription or recommendation of a licensed physician, which treatment or trial visit proves unsuccessful after a bona fide effort by the complaining party to effect a cure, upon the reconfinement of the party with mental illness in an institution for persons with mental illness, shall be regular treatment for mental illness and causes thereof, and the period of time so consumed in seeking to effect a cure or while on a trial visit home shall be added to the period of actual confinement in an institution for persons with mental illness in computing the required period of three (3) years confinement immediately preceding the beginning of the action. No divorce shall be granted because of mental illness until after a thorough examination of the person with mental illness by two (2) physicians who are recognized authorities on mental diseases. One (1) of those physicians shall be either the superintendent of a state psychiatric hospital or institution or a veterans hospital for persons with mental illness in which the patient is confined, or a member of the medical staff of that hospital or institution who has had the patient in charge. Before incurable mental illness can be successfully proven as a ground for divorce, it shall be necessary that both of those physicians make affidavit that the patient is a person with mental illness at the time of the examination, and both affidavits shall be made a part of the permanent record of the divorce proceedings and shall create the prima facie presumption of incurable mental illness, such as would justify a divorce based on that ground. Service of process shall be made on the superintendent of the hospital or institution in which the defendant is a patient. If the patient is in a hospital or institution outside the state, process shall be served by publication, as in other cases of service by publication, together with the sending of a copy by registered mail to the superintendent of the hospital or institution. In addition, process shall be served upon the next blood relative and guardian, if any. If there is no legal guardian, the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interest of the person with mental illness. The relative or guardian and superintendent of the hospital or institution shall be entitled to appear and be 863 heard upon any and all issues. The status of the parties as to the support and maintenance of the person with mental illness shall not be altered in any way by the granting of the divorce.

However, in the discretion of the chancery court, and in those cases as the court may deem it necessary and proper, before any such decree is granted on the ground of incurable mental illness, the complainant, when ordered by the court, shall enter into bond, to be approved by the court, in such an amount as the court may think just and proper, conditioned for the care and keeping of the person with mental illness during the remainder of his or her natural life, unless the person with mental illness has a sufficient estate in his or her own right for that purpose.