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In re Wilhite

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 10, 2013

In re The Matter of Lacey Celeste WILHITE, an Unmarried Minor.
v.
Rodford Ray Wilhite, Guardian/Conservator of Lacey Celeste Wilhite, Appellee. Tammy L. Woolbright, Appellant

Page 302

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 303

Tammy L. Woolbright, appellant, pro se.

Will R. Ford, attorney for appellee.

Before IRVING, P.J., ISHEE and FAIR, JJ.

FAIR, J.

¶ 1. Eighteen-year-old Lacey Wilhite was permanently disabled in an automobile accident. Her divorced parents each sought a guardianship or conservatorship, and the father ultimately prevailed. The mother's attorney, Tammy Woolbright, filed an attorney's lien against the proceeds of a settlement of Lacey's claims stemming from the accident. The chancery court ultimately awarded Woolbright $2,500 for her work on Lacey's behalf, and Woolbright appeals from that judgment, contending she should have received more. We can find no basis to interfere with the exercise of discretion by the chancellor and increase the award, so we affirm.

FACTS

¶ 2. On August 16, 2008, Lacey was thrown from her vehicle after a collision with a drunk driver. She suffered permanent debilitating brain injuries that left her " neurologically devastated" and totally dependent on the care of others. Her mother, Celeste Sloan, had custody at the time of the accident, but Lacey had actually been living with her father for several years. Sloan, through her attorney, Woolbright, filed a petition for guardianship on September 24, 2008. A short time later, Lacey's father, Rodford Wilhite, responded with a counter-petition. He also sought custody of Lacey in a separate proceeding. Rodford ultimately prevailed in both actions, with the chancery court appointing him guardian/conservator approximately two years after the accident. The court then entered an order approving a 25% contingency fee contract with Rodford's attorney, Will Ford.

¶ 3. The court was later presented with a settlement offer from the insurance carrier of the other driver, Nationwide, for the policy limits of $100,000. Also before it were Woolbright's attorney's lien and a subrogation claim by Lacey's medical insurance carrier. The chancellor approved the settlement, denied the subrogation claim, and ordered a separate hearing on the issues of Ford's fee and Woolbright's lien.

¶ 4. The chancery court found that Ford was largely entitled to collect his 25% contingency fee. Further, although Woolbright had a contract with Lacey's mother and had devoted significant time and effort

Page 304

to pursuing Lacey's claims, Lacey's mother did not have a guardianship, and Woolbright had never sought or received court approval to represent Lacey. For that and other reasons, the chancellor concluded Woolbright was entitled to $2,500, in quantum ...


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