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The Mississippi Bar v. Hughes

Supreme Court of Mississippi

September 25, 2018




         ¶1. This matter is before the Court, en banc, on the amended formal complaint filed by the Mississippi Bar against Yvonne L. Hughes, a licensed Mississippi attorney. The Bar requests reciprocal discipline based on Hughes's disbarment by the Supreme Court of Louisiana on May 11, 2007, and asks that this Court order Hughes to pay the costs and expenses of filing the formal complaint and amended formal complaint.

         ¶2. On April 22, 2004, the Supreme Court of Louisiana issued a decision removing Hughes from judicial office based on the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana ("Commission"). In re Judge Yvonne L. Hughes, 874 So.2d 746 (La. 2004). The court's opinion related that Hughes had been a judge of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, Division "C." Id. at 752. The Commission had filed fifteen formal charges against Hughes based on her activities as an attorney and three formal charges based on her activities as a judge. Id. at 753, 757. After the Commission's two-part hearing on the charges, it recommended that Hughes be removed from judicial office and that the record should be forwarded to the Lawyer Disciplinary Board for consideration of whether she should retain her license to practice law. Id. at 758-59.

         ¶3. The Supreme Court of Louisiana, which has exclusive original jurisdiction in judicial disciplinary proceedings, found that the charges filed by the Commission were substantiated by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 752. That court issued a forty-five page opinion, with an unpublished appendix, detailing its findings of Hughes's judicial misconduct and her unprofessional conduct as an attorney and judicial candidate. Id. at 746-91. Because the record evinced an extraordinary pattern of misconduct, the Louisiana court concluded, "Judge Hughes has demonstrated a blatant and incorrigible inability to conform to the rules imposed on any aspect of her career - be it notary, attorney, candidate, or judge." Id. at 790.

         ¶4. The court found that, in Hughes's capacity as a practicing attorney, she repeatedly had taken money from clients and had failed to perform the services for which she had been retained, and then she refused to refund the fees. Id. at 785. Out of the nine charges involving Hughes's failure to account to former clients and/or to refund unearned fees, the court singled out several incidents for discussion as particularly representative of Hughes's misconduct. Id. at 775 n.16.

         ¶5. In one such incident, Hughes accepted representation of Donald Jones, who paid her $2, 500 to handle his criminal case. Id. at 778. But when Hughes failed to appear at Jones's guilty plea hearing, Jones was forced to hire his codefendant's attorney to represent him, despite the fact that he believed this created a conflict of interest. Id. at 779. In her defense, Hughes claimed that she had taken part in plea negotiations and had arranged for the codefendant's counsel to represent Jones at the guilty plea hearing. Id. Not only did Jones deny any knowledge of that arrangement, but the assistant district attorneys involved with the plea bargain had no recollection of Hughes's involvement. Id. Hughes did not refund the unearned fees. Id.

         ¶6. In another matter, Troy Dews paid Hughes a $2, 500 retainer to represent his nephew on criminal charges in federal district court in Mississippi. Id. at 780. Hughes agreed she would investigate the charges and visit the nephew, who was incarcerated in Jackson, Mississippi. Hughes neither made an appearance at the arraignment nor requested a continuance. Id. at 780. Hughes did travel to Jackson, but never visited the nephew; instead, she attended a gospel concert and visited an ill friend. Id. Having discerned that Hughes had done nothing in the case, Dews spent six weeks begging for a refund, after which Hughes sent him a partial refund check that was returned twice for insufficient funds. Id. At the hearing, Hughes conceded that she probably owed Dews money and that she never had given him an accounting. Id. Hughes explained she had not repaid Dews because doing so would not have stopped the disciplinary proceedings. Id. The court described Hughes's excuse as "especially disturbing" and found that her misconduct had brought Louisiana's attorneys and judiciary into disrepute. Id. at 781.

         ¶7. In another Louisiana incident, twenty-one days prior to assuming office as a juvenile court judge, Hughes accepted representation of Dorian Ferguson in a criminal matter pending in Jefferson Parish. Id. at 782. Ferguson's family paid Hughes $700 toward the representation. Id. Hughes appeared as counsel of record; but after she assumed judicial office, she abandoned the representation. Id. at 783. When Ferguson contacted Hughes after she had failed to appear at a motions hearing, she said she had referred the matter to another law firm that had agreed to handle the case for the same total fee Hughes had negotiated, $1500. Id. But when the family contacted the law firm, it demanded $3500. And Hughes refused to refund the $700 she had received from Ferguson's family. Id. at 783-84.

         ¶8. Next, the court addressed Hughes's misconduct regarding her acceptance of a $1500 retainer to represent Lana Turner's son on a second degree murder charge. Id. at 784. Hughes spent $500 of the retainer on an investigator; but when she assumed judicial office, she abandoned the representation without informing the client or his mother. Id. at 784. Without obtaining permission from the Turners, she arranged for another attorney to take over the case. Id. When Lana Turner demanded a refund, Hughes refused to refund any portion of the fee. Id. at 785.

         ¶9. The Supreme Court of Louisiana found that these and numerous similar charges involving Hughes's refusal to refund unearned fees or to account to clients had been established by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 775 n.16. Its description of the other similar charges was contained in an unpublished appendix. Id. at 791. The court found many other instances of attorney misconduct, including that Hughes had failed to maintain a client's files and turn them over to a new attorney, which had jeopardized the case. Id. at 782. The supreme court found that, in connection with that matter, she had ignored a subpoena to appear in court, which the supreme court deemed "egregious, absolutely unacceptable, and totally intolerable." Id. Additionally, the court determined that Hughes had held herself out as a notary public after her notarial commission had been suspended. Id. at 777-78. The court further found that, as a judicial candidate, Hughes had committed repeated, egregious campaign finance reporting violations resulting in the assessment of fines and fees in the amount of $49, 400. Id. at 775-77.

         ¶10. After reviewing the voluminous evidence of Hughes's attorney misconduct, the Louisiana court said the following:

The evidence clearly and convincingly establishes that as an attorney, Judge Hughes time and time again took money from people who could ill afford to pay it, did minimal or no work to earn it, and then refused to refund monies she clearly had not earned. Preying upon her clients' lack of education and lack of sophistication in legal matters, Judge Hughes either ignored or cavalierly dismissed complaints that she had failed to perform the services for which she was retained, explaining that her work was all done behind the scenes and that her fees were all earned. However, she failed to produce any records that might substantiate her claims and failed to account to her clients for their hard-earned dollars.
Such conduct is inexcusable. Judge Hughes' documented failure to account to her clients, to return unearned fees even after acknowledging that refunds were owed, to appreciate the significance of holding herself out as a notary when she holds no notary commission, and to abide by the basic rules of law that govern all citizens, not just lawyers and judges (such as campaign finance laws and valid subpoenas) is persistent and public conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that warrants discipline. We find the Lawyer Charges were proved ...

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