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Alexander v. Mississippi Bar

June 18, 1998

FIRNIST J. ALEXANDER, JR.
v.
THE MISSISSIPPI BAR



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roberts, Justice, For The Court:

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/19/96

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: COMPLAINT TRIBUNAL

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - BAR MATTERS

DISPOSITION AFFIRMED IN PART; SUSPENSION

MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:

MANDATE ISSUED:

EN BANC.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶1. This case comes before the Court as an appeal from a decision by the Mississippi Bar Complaint Tribunal entered on August 20, 1996. Firnist Alexander was sanctioned by the Tribunal with a two-year suspension from the practice of law. Mr. Alexander has appealed the Tribunal's decision, along with the imposition of sanctions. The Mississippi Bar has cross-appealed requesting discipline greater than a two-year suspension be assessed against Mr. Alexander.

¶2. The Bar filed its complaint, docketed as Cause No. 96-B-362, against Mr. Alexander on April 17, 1996. Mr. Alexander was served with process by the Hinds County Sheriff's Department on May 23, 1996. Pursuant to Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Discipline, Mr. Alexander should have filed an answer to the complaint within 20 days after being served. No answer was filed.

¶3. On June 18, 1996, the Bar filed its application for entry of default judgment and supporting affidavit. The Clerk of this Court filed the docket of entry of default against Mr. Alexander on June 18, 1996, pursuant to Miss. R. Civ. P. 55(a). The Bar filed its motion for entry of default judgment and supporting affidavit on June 19, 1996. By notice of hearing on motion filed July 2, 1996, the Bar's motion for a default judgment against Mr. Alexander was set for hearing on July 19, 1996.

¶4. A hearing was had before the Bar Complaint Tribunal on July 19, 1996. Also, on July 19, 1996, Mr. Alexander filed his motion for additional time in which to file an answer, or, in the alternative, to file an answer out of time and to set aside the entry of default and to deny the default judgment. The Tribunal heard arguments from the Bar and Mr. Alexander and considered both parties' motions. After hearing the arguments and receiving evidence, the Tribunal declined to set aside the entry of default judgment, entered a default judgment against Mr. Alexander, and imposed a two-year suspension on Mr. Alexander. The rulings and decisions by the Bar Complaint Tribunal were enumerated in its Order and Opinion and Judgment entered August 20, 1996.

¶5. It is from these findings and rulings Mr. Alexander has appealed to this Court. Specifically, he raises the following issues:

I. WHETHER THE COMPLAINT TRIBUNAL ERRED BY ENTERING A DEFAULT JUDGMENT AFTER RESPONDENT APPEARED AT THE HEARING BELOW.

II. WHETHER THE ALLEGATIONS IN THE FORMAL COMPLAINT SUPPORT A FINDING BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE A VIOLATION OF THE RULES OF DISCIPLINE.

III. WHETHER THE DISCIPLINE IMPOSED WAS EXCESSIVE.

The Bar cross-appeals the decision of the Bar Complaint Tribunal arguing:

I. WHETHER THE CIRCUMSTANCES WARRANT AN IMPOSITION OF GREATER SANCTIONS THAN ASSESSED BY THE COMPLAINT TRIBUNAL.

¶6. Mr. Alexander is no stranger to this Court. Three separate opinions by this Court have been published wherein he was sanctioned for violating the Rules of Discipline. They are: (1) Alexander v. The Mississippi Bar, 651 So. 2d 541 (Miss. 1995); (2) The Mississippi Bar v. Alexander, 669 So. 2d 40 (Miss. 1996); and (3) Mississippi Bar v. Alexander, 697 So. 2d 1164 (Miss. 1997).

¶7. After a thorough review of the record before this Court, it is our opinion that Mr. Alexander's arguments on appeal are without merit. Therefore, the decision of the Bar Complaint Tribunal to enter a default judgment against Mr. Alexander should be affirmed. This Court entered an order, No. 93-BA-00295-SCT, handed down on April 9, 1998, to suspend Mr. Alexander from the practice of law in this State until such time as all orders of suspension have expired, he has taken and passed the Bar Examination, and he has completed all outstanding orders of the Court. In light of that mandate (which summarizes but does not change the situation), coupled with the other cases previously handed down by this Court regarding Mr. Alexander, the arguments on the Mississippi Bar's cross-appeal are well founded. Because all other avenues against Mr. Alexander have been pursued without effect, it is the decision of this Court to disbar Firnist Alexander from the practice of law in Mississippi.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

¶8. The complaint against Mr. Alexander arose out of his representation of Frederick A. Anderson. Before March 1993, Mr. Anderson was employed by the Methodist Medical Center (Medical Center) in Jackson, Mississippi as an air conditioning-refrigeration controller. In March of 1993, Mr. Anderson was passed over for a job promotion with the medical center. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the medical center alleging employment discrimination.

¶9. On September 28, 1993, Mr. Anderson left the employment of the medical center. In October 1993, the EEOC issued a letter to Mr. Anderson, authorizing him to file a civil action against the Medical Center. Mr. Anderson prepared and filed on November 1, 1993, a pro se complaint against the Medical Center in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Hattiesburg Division, styled Frederick Anderson v. Methodist Med. Ctr., Inc., Civil Action No. 2:93-cv-319ps on the docket of that court. On December 23, 1993, the Medical Center filed its answer.

¶10. After the Medical Center filed its answer, Mr. Anderson sought legal representation to assist him in this litigation. In December of 1993, Mr. Anderson consulted Mr. Alexander about his case, and Mr. Alexander agreed to undertake the representation of Mr. Anderson in his suit against the Medical Center. From late December 1993 until April 6, 1994, Mr. Alexander initiated no contact between him and his client. On April 6, 1994, Mr. Anderson set a meeting with Mr. Alexander to discuss his case. Mr. Alexander advised Mr. Anderson that his case was going well, but the Judge had not yet set a court date. Mr. Alexander assured Mr. Anderson that he would take appropriate action to get the case moving.

¶11. By letter to the EEOC dated April 6, 1994, Mr. Alexander requested a copy of the EEOC's investigative file on Mr. Anderson's charge. By order entered March 23, 1995, and received by Mr. Anderson in May of 1995 the court denied his motion to amend his complaint, which he had filed pro se on November 22, 1993. Mr. Anderson was concerned that the order was sent to him and not his attorney, Mr. Alexander. Mr. Anderson went to the clerk of the court to determine the status of his case. He was advised by the clerk that he had no attorney and was not represented by counsel in the matter.

¶12. From April 6, 1994, to March 23, 1995, Mr. Anderson initiated all contact with Mr. Alexander, each time being assured by Mr. Alexander that he would get the case moving. By March 23, 1995, Mr. Anderson had lost all faith in Mr. Alexander and filed on July 25, 1995, a pro se motion for extension of time to obtain counsel. Mr. Anderson terminated the services of Mr. Alexander and received a release from Mr. Alexander dated August 25, 1995.

¶13. A written bar complaint against Mr. Alexander by Mr. Anderson was filed on July 25, 1995. Mr. Alexander did not respond to the bar complaint, and as result, the Bar demanded a response from Mr. Alexander pursuant to Rule 8.1(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct by letter dated September 1, 1995. Mr. Alexander also failed to respond to this letter.

¶14. An investigatory hearing was scheduled for and conducted on January 10, 1996. Mr. Alexander appeared at the investigatory hearing but refused to respond to questions from the Bar's counsel. By copy of the investigatory report dated January 17, 1996, written demand was again made upon Mr. Alexander pursuant to Rule 8.1(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct to submit information addressing Mr. Anderson's allegations. Mr. Alexander failed to respond to the investigatory report.

¶15. The Bar Complaint Tribunal entered a default judgment against Mr. Alexander on July 19, 1996. The Tribunal ruled that Mr. Alexander did not show good cause as to why default judgment should not be entered. The allegations in the complaint against Mr. Alexander were taken as true. The Tribunal specifically found that Mr. Alexander had violated the following Rules of Professional Conduct:

A. Rule 1.2, MRPC, which provides, in part, that a lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation, subject to paragraphs (c), (d), and (e), and shall consult with the client as to the means by which there are to be pursued;

B. Rule 1.3, MRPC, which provides that a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client;

C. Rule 1.4, MRPC, which provides that a lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information and shall further explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit ...


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