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Weill v. Bailey

Supreme Court of Mississippi

April 6, 2017

JEFFREY A. WEILL, SR.
v.
KARLA WATKINS BAILEY

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/19/2015

         HINDS COUNTY COUNTY COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. HENRY L. LACKEY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: DIANE PRADAT PUMPHREY NICHOLAS DENSON GARRARD

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JAMES ASHLEY OGDEN JAMES W. SMITH, JR.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: JAMES ASHLEY OGDEN JAMES W. SMITH, JR. TYLER ARTHUR ROYALS DIANE PRADAT PUMPHREY NICHOLAS DENSON GARRARD

          BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., COLEMAN AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          COLEMAN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Karla Watkins Bailey, former court administrator to Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey A. Weill Sr., filed a complaint against Judge Weill in his individual capacity, alleging that he had committed libel against her. Bailey's complaint and amended complaint were based on language in a footnote contained in four orders entered by Judge Weill in separate criminal cases that were before him. The alleged libelous language in the orders provided that Bailey had been reprimanded by Judge Weill for engaging in improper ex parte communications while she was his court administrator and she had added a certain public defender as counsel of record in her current position as deputy clerk.

         ¶2. Judge Weill filed a motion to dismiss Bailey's complaint and amended complaint, raising several grounds for dismissal, including judicial immunity. The trial court denied the motion and ordered the parties to commence discovery. Judge Weill filed a petition for interlocutory appeal. The Court granted the petition. We hold that the trial court erred by failing to correctly apply the doctrine of judicial immunity to Bailey's claim that Judge Weill libeled her via the underlying orders. Accordingly, the trial court's order is reversed and we remand for further proceedings consistent with the instant opinion.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3. On April 16, 2015, Bailey filed a complaint in the County Court of Hinds County against Judge Weill in his individual capacity alleging "libel, slander, defamation of character, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional interference with an advantageous situation, negligent interference with an advantageous situation, making defamatory statements with the intent to deprive [Bailey] of her job, defamation of character, harassment, general negligence in releasing information that [was] not accurate or supported by facts."

         ¶4. Bailey was employed as Judge Weill's court administrator from January 2011 until November 29, 2012. Bailey claimed that during her employment, Judge Weill engaged in a pattern of abusive language and disrespectful actions against her. Bailey alleges that, after she left her position as court administrator, a dispute developed between Judge Weill and Hinds County Public Defender Alison Kelly. In the midst of the dispute, Kelly filed motions requesting that Judge Weill recuse himself from fifty-six criminal cases that she had been assigned and in which she was counsel of record. On February 10, 2015, Judge Weill entered separate orders denying Kelly's multiple motions. Four of the orders (February 2015 orders) also addressed a motion for clarification of representation that Kelly also had filed in the criminal cases. Bailey alleges that the following language, found in a footnote appearing in each of the four orders, libeled her:

The Court notes that the entry of the Motion for Clarification was made by Deputy Clerk Karla Bailey, f/k/a Karla Watkins, who was previously employed as the court administrator for the undersigned and who resigned after being reprimanded for improper ex parte contacts with Ms. Kelly about substantive issues involving the criminal docket. It is presumed that since Ms. Bailey was the deputy clerk who entered the Motion for Clarification, she is also responsible for adding Ms. Kelly's name as an attorney of record.

         ¶5. Bailey addressed the February 2015 orders in her complaint:

In the [o]rders, [Judge Weill] specifically named [Bailey] and falsely stated [he] had reprimanded [Bailey] for making improper ex parte contacts with Ms. Kelly. Judge Weill also stated it was his assumption that since [Bailey] was a deputy clerk in the Hinds County Clerk's office she was the one who entered the Motion for Clarification and she was the one who added Ms. Kelly's name to the document. Judge Weill continues to make false statements about [Bailey] and her character as he continues his ill-conceived vendetta to discredit Ms. Kelly and attack her character.

         ¶6. Bailey claimed that she suffered physical injuries, emotional injuries, and loss of reputation as a result of the acts of Judge Weill.

         ¶7. On May 8, 2015, Bailey filed an amended complaint. According to Bailey, the purpose of filing an amended complaint was to make the allegations in the initial complaint complete and to address the issues more specifically. The amended complaint mirrors the initial complaint. However, Bailey elaborates on her accusations of Judge Weill's improper conduct while she was employed as court administrator that she had alleged generally in the initial complaint.

         ¶8. Bailey added that Judge Weill's statements made in the February 2015 orders denying Kelly's motions for recusal were "willfully and intentionally made with a desire to harm [Bailey's] personal, professional and public reputation." Bailey alleged: "Since the filing of [Bailey's [c]omplaint[, she] has been targeted by [Judge Weill's] associates who on at least two occasions on April 20, 2015 and April 21, 2015 came to her desk in the clerk's office and made harassing gestures and inappropriate jesters [sic] of intimidation." Bailey also alleged that Judge Weill "has carried out a pattern of ...


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