BEFORE A COMPLAINT TRIBUNAL CONSISTING OF:
JUDGE GEORGE C. CARLSON, JR., PRESIDING JUDGE HONORABLE JOHN D. SIBLEY HONORABLE JAMES D. MINOR
This matter came on for hearing before this Tribunal on Thursday, April 6, 1989.
Complainant, the Mississippi State Bar (the Bar), was represented by the Honorable Michael B. Martz, General Counsel, and the Honorable Charles J. Mikhail, Assistant General Counsel; Respondent, James Russell Tucker (Mr. Tucker), was represented by the Honorable Walker L. Watters.
1. The Formal Complaint in this cause was filed on September 23, 1988, pursuant to a written directive issued by the Bar's Committee on Professional Responsibility to the Bar's General Counsel dated September 15, 1988, and received by said Counsel on September 19, 1988. Mr. Tucker was served with process according to law on October 10, 1988. At all times herein mentioned, Mr. Tucker was a member of the Bar and/or subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Mississippi and its designated agencies.
2. The Tribunal has jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter.
3. In September of 1985, Sharon Michealene Tollison (Mickey) and Ramona Fay Clinard (Ramona) retained the law firm of Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush in Jackson, Mississippi, to represent them in a claim against certain individuals and the executors of the estate of their grandfather, Jason Otto Palmertree, who died in Carroll County, Mississippi, in 1975. Mr. Tucker, an associate and employee of the law firm, agreed, on behalf of the firm, to represent Mickey and Ramona in exchange for a contingency fee equal to 35% of the amount recovered before filing suit, 40% after filing suit, 45% after filing suit and the case is prepared for trial, and 50% from and after five days prior to trial.
4. Mr. Tucker advised Mickey that he would force the executors of the estate to convey to Mickey and Ramona their shares of the estate or negotiate a sale of their shares to the executors or other heirs. He obtained an appraisal on the property and successfully negotiated a settlement whereby Mickey and Ramona would quitclaim their shares to the executors by deed in exchange for $68,575.00 for each share. Mr. Tucker prepared and Mickey and Ramona executed deeds quitclaiming their shares to the executors pursuant to the settlement agreement.
5. In order to pay for Mickey and Ramona's shares of the estate, the executors obtained a loan from First National Bank (now Trustmark) in Jackson, Mississippi, which prepared and delivered to Mr. Tucker certified checks made payable to Mickey and Ramona, each in the amount of $68,575.00.
6. On March 3, 1986, Mr. Tucker, Mickey and Ramona, and a friend of Mickey's, Joanne Loper, met in the lobby of the main office of Trustmark in Jackson to pay Mr. Tucker his attorney's fees. They did not do so that afternoon but agreed to meet at the bank the next morning. On the morning of March 4, 1986, in the lobby of the bank, Mickey gave Mr. Tucker two $24,000.00 personal checks made payable to him, which he accepted and deposited into his own personal checking account at Deposit Guaranty National Bank, without informing his employer of his receipt of the funds.
7. When Mr. Tucker deposited Mickey's first $24,000.00 check into his personal account on March 4, 1986, the balance of the account was $32.97. The final balance on May 30, 1986 (according to the account's quarterly statement),
was $2,967.68. The total of deposits in the account for that quarterly period were $48,000.00 (the two checks from Mickey); total checks written on the account were $45,060.29 plus a $5.00 service charge. Immediately after making the March 4 deposit, Mr. Tucker wrote checks in amounts such as $3,416.03, $7,040.00 (of which Mr. Tucker has no recall), $1,236.55, and $2,967.68, having by March 12, depleted the $24,000.00 down to $4,349.84. After depositing the second $24,000.00 check, Mr. Tucker wrote several checks on the account, such as one for $500.00, one for $2,600.00, and two additional checks made out to cash.
8. Some time in May 1986, the attorney for a timber company which was going to purchase timber from the land in question, discovered an error in the legal descriptions of the property in the Quitclaim Deeds which Mr. Tucker had drafted, errors which they, the executors and Trustmark insisted be corrected by way of Mickey and Ramona executing Correction Deeds.
9. When Mr. Tucker approached Mickey in June 1986 about signing Correction Deeds, she was reluctant to do so inasmuch as she had already had serious reservations about the manner in which Mr. Tucker handled this case and the amount of the fee charged and had consulted another attorney, the Honorable Timothy Gowan (Mr. Gowan) of Jackson, Mississippi, to look into the situation. By September 1986, Mr. Gowan had had several conferences with members of the Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush law firm about the aforementioned events, none of whom knew anything about the case or Mr. Tucker's receiving the large fee. On October 6, 1986, seven months after receiving the money, Mr. Tucker tendered the money to the firm by way of two $24,000.00 certified checks. His association with the firm ended shortly thereafter [inasmuch as some of the partners did not wish to become partners with Mr. Tucker then or in the future because of the manner in which he handled Mickey and Ramona's case.] *
10. Mickey and Ramona then filed suit against Mr. Tucker and the law firm of Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush in the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi, in Cause No. 133, 331, charging them, among other things, with unjust enrichment by trickery, fraud, deceit and ...