In re Reinstatement of Parsons, No. 2001-BR-01533-SCT.

CourtMississippi Supreme Court
Citation890 So.2d 40
Docket NumberNo. 2001-BR-01533-SCT.
PartiesIn the Matter of The Petition for REINSTATEMENT To The Practice of Law OF Thomas Eddy PARSONS.
Decision Date21 August 2003

890 So.2d 40

In the Matter of The Petition for REINSTATEMENT To The Practice of Law OF Thomas Eddy PARSONS

No. 2001-BR-01533-SCT.

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

August 21, 2003.


Albert Necaise, Tadd Parsons, Wiggins, for appellant.

Michael B. Martz, attorney for appellee.

EN BANC.

WALLER, Justice, for the Court.

¶ 1. The petition of Thomas Eddy Parsons to be reinstated to the practice of law is again before us for consideration after we referred the petition to a special master pursuant to Rule 3 of the Rules of Discipline for the Mississippi State Bar. In re Petition for Reinstatement of Parsons, 849 So.2d 852 (Miss.2002) ("Eddy Parsons I"). While appreciative of the conclusions and recommendation of the able special master, we nonetheless deny Parsons's petition for reinstatement given the testimony adduced at the hearing that Parsons engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. The following is the factual background from Eddy Parsons I:

890 So.2d 41
Parsons was disbarred by agreed order of disbarment on June 13, 1996, after he was convicted of two felonies in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Miss. Bar v. Parsons, 677 So.2d 192 (Miss.1996). The first conviction was based on one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and five counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Parsons was sentenced to 98 months imprisonment on each count with all sentences running concurrently. The second conviction was based on a guilty plea entered for enticing an individual to travel in interstate commerce for the purposes of prostitution in violation of the Mann Act. Parsons was sentenced to 60 months running concurrently with the 98-month drug convictions and fined $5,000. The overall sentence was later reduced to 80 months. After serving nearly six years (59 1/2 months) in prison, he was released and placed on five years supervised and reporting probation and ordered to serve 200 hours of community service. Parsons's probation was originally scheduled to end on June 5, 2005, but it has since been terminated thirty-seven months early on April 30, 2002, by the federal court.

849 So.2d at 853.

¶ 3. Parsons filed his petition for reinstatement after the termination of his probation. Noting the divergence and seeming inconsistency in the case law regarding the reinstatement of attorneys disbarred for drug convictions, we referred Parsons's petition to a special master to assess the extent of his rehabilitation. Id. at 855. We appointed the Honorable Norman L. Gillespie, now a retired chancellor, to serve as special master.

¶ 4. Prior to the hearing, general counsel for the Bar, Michael B. Martz, wrote Jack Parsons and Tadd Parsons, Eddy Parsons's father and brother, respectively, and both members of the Bar, that it had come to the Bar's attention that Eddy Parsons may have been employed in their law office.

¶ 5. It was undisputed that Eddy Parsons maintained an office in the same building as the law office occupied by his father and brother. Out of this same building, Eddy Parsons owned and operated E-Z Disposal, a waste disposal company that provided dumpsters for contractors at construction sites.

¶ 6. The November 8, 2002, hearing for the most part concentrated on determining whether Eddy Parsons engaged in the unauthorized practice of law while disbarred rather than on whether he was worthy of reinstatement from a moral and character standpoint. The Bar presented three witnesses, former secretaries of the Parsons Law Firm, who testified as to Eddy Parsons's involvement in his father's and brother's law practices.

¶ 7. Rhona Saucier was employed by the Parsons Law Firm as a secretary for approximately seven months in 2002. She performed general secretarial work and stated that Eddy Parsons dictated tapes for cases being handled by the firm and would indicate whose signature, be it his father's or brother's, should go on the document. Saucier also noted that Eddy Parsons was in the office "[j]ust about every day" and that Eddy Parsons signed his brother's name to pleadings and discovery on a couple of occasions. Also, she testified that clients' telephone calls would be sent to Eddy Parsons and that he would request law firm files so that he could discuss their cases with them.

¶ 8. Victoria Herrington was employed by the Parsons Law Firm as a secretary as well for approximately eight months. Her testimony was consistent with that of

890 So.2d 42
Saucier. Herrington testified that she transcribed tapes from Eddy Parsons for active client files and that he would indicate whose signature belonged on a particular document. She would also transfer client telephone calls to Eddy Parsons. Herrington also noted that Eddy Parsons moved into an office closer to those occupied by his family's law firm where he met with clients

¶ 9. The Bar's final witness was Stephanie Evans, another former secretary of the Parsons Law Firm. She also transcribed tapes dictated by Eddy Parsons and noted that he had met with clients.

¶ 10. At the close of the Bar's case, Judge Gillespie recessed the hearing until November 22, 2002, to allow Eddy Parsons to present witnesses in rebuttal to the Bar's assertion that he had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Sandy Scarborough, a client of the Parsons Law Firm, testified that in her dealings with the firm and to her knowledge, Eddy Parsons never gave her legal advice or worked on her case. Jimmy Scott, another client, testified to the same effect. Buster Shaw, a long-time client, frequently used the firm for work in conjunction with his real estate development business and also testified that, in his extensive dealings with the firm, Eddy Parsons never prepared a title opinion or performed any legal services for him. Eddy Parsons himself also testified that, among other things, he never signed his brother's name to any pleadings or other legal documents.

¶ 11. In his final report and recommendation, Judge Gillespie ably discussed the circumstances leading to Eddy Parsons's disbarment and the extent of Eddy Parsons's rehabilitation since his release from prison. He concluded that Eddy Parsons had sufficiently demonstrated his rehabilitation in conduct and moral character and recommended that Eddy Parsons be reinstated to the practice of law.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 12. We retain exclusive jurisdiction over matters of attorney discipline and reinstatement. Rules of Discipline for the Miss. State Bar Rule 1(a). Attorneys' petitions for reinstatement are reviewed under the de novo standard. In re Baker, 649 So.2d 850, 852 (Miss.1995). We likewise sit as the trier of fact and are not bound by any substantial evidence or manifest error rule. Id.

DISCUSSION

¶ 13. Judge Gillespie ultimately recommended that Eddy Parsons be reinstated to the practice of law upon his passage of the Mississippi Bar Examination. On the issue of unauthorized practice of law, he noted that we reinstated Michael Holleman who, at the time of his petition and reinstatement, was employed as a paralegal in Louisiana. In re Holleman, 826 So.2d 1243 (Miss.2002).

¶ 14. He also noted our resolution of a petitioner's potential unauthorized practice with respect to Ethics Opinion No. 961 in Williams v. Miss. State Bar Ass'n, 492 So.2d 578 (Miss.1986). In Williams, the petitioner was disbarred after pleading guilty to two drug charges. 492 So.2d at 578. In 1981, a Meridian attorney sponsored Williams's work release and employed Williams in his firm as a paralegal, law clerk, and secretary. Id. After filing his petition, Williams became aware of Ethics Opinion No. 96 but was not working for another attorney at the time. 492

890 So.2d 43
So.2d at 579. He never accepted employment with an attorney subsequent thereto. Id.

¶ 15. With respect to Ethics Opinion No. 96, we held:

[Retired] Justice Sugg [, the special master,] did not express an opinion on this issue, but recommended that this Court should write with reference to Ethics Opinion No. 96, which held that an attorney should not employ a disbarred or suspended attorney to work in his office. The issue is not properly before the Court at this time, since neither Williams nor his former employer, Roy Pitts, were disciplined for failure to abide by this Opinion. Therefore, we will reserve judgment on the matter until properly presented to the Court.

492 So.2d at 581.

¶ 16. Judge Gillespie likewise opined that the issue of Parsons's unauthorized practice may not be properly before this Court. Relying on Williams alone, such a conclusion is technically correct but discounts Ethics Opinion No. 171 which was rendered subsequent to Williams on June 22, 1990, and provides: "It is not proper for a disbarred attorney, whose license to practice law has been reinstated conditioned on passing the bar examination and multi-state professional responsibility examination, to be employed as a clerk or paralegal until all requirements for reinstatement are met." We find that the issue of a disbarred or suspended attorney's unauthorized practice of law is a matter to be inquired into in reinstatement proceedings since such activity evidences a disregard of and contempt for the order of disbarment or suspension.

¶ 17. Judge Gillespie noted the inconsistency of Ethics Opinion Nos. 96 and 171 with In re Holleman, 826 So.2d 1243 (Miss.2002). Michael Holleman was disbarred after being convicted of felony possession of child pornography. Id. at 1244. Subsequent to his release from custody, Holleman obtained employment with a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, law firm as a paralegal earning $60,000 per year. Id. at 1245. In assessing Holleman's worthiness to be reinstated, we cited his employment as a paralegal as a mitigating factor.2 Id. at 1247. We ultimately reinstated Holleman unanimously. Id. at 1249.

¶ 18. While Holleman was ostensibly in violation of Ethics Opinion No....

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3 practice notes
  • In re Shelton, No. 2005-BR-02366-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • October 12, 2006
    ...to attorney, discipline, reinstatement and appointment of receivers for suspended and disbarred attorneys. In re Reinstatement of Parsons, 890 So.2d 40, 42 (Miss. 2003); Miss. Bar v. Baldwin, 752 So.2d 996, 997 (Miss.1999) (citing In re Massey, 670 So.2d 843, 844 (Miss.1996)). Pursuant to M......
  • Gaines v. Miss. Bar, NO. 2017–BR–00081–SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 5, 2018
    ...since such activity evidences a disregard of and contempt for the order of disbarment or suspension." In re Reinstatement of Parsons , 890 So.2d 40, 43 (Miss. 2003). We have reinstated a number of attorneys who worked as paralegals during their suspensions or disbarments. See In re Petition......
  • IN RE REINSTATEMENT OF BALDWIN, No. 2003-BR-00043-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 25, 2003
    ...the appearance of the practice of law in contravention of our order of disbarment." In re Parsons, 2003 WL 21982905 at *4 (¶ 18), 890 So.2d 40, 44 (Miss.2003). Under the circumstances, Baldwin did more than just create the "appearance" of practicing law. He appears to even hold himself out ......
3 cases
  • In re Shelton, No. 2005-BR-02366-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • October 12, 2006
    ...to attorney, discipline, reinstatement and appointment of receivers for suspended and disbarred attorneys. In re Reinstatement of Parsons, 890 So.2d 40, 42 (Miss. 2003); Miss. Bar v. Baldwin, 752 So.2d 996, 997 (Miss.1999) (citing In re Massey, 670 So.2d 843, 844 (Miss.1996)). Pursuant to M......
  • Gaines v. Miss. Bar, NO. 2017–BR–00081–SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 5, 2018
    ...since such activity evidences a disregard of and contempt for the order of disbarment or suspension." In re Reinstatement of Parsons , 890 So.2d 40, 43 (Miss. 2003). We have reinstated a number of attorneys who worked as paralegals during their suspensions or disbarments. See In re Petition......
  • IN RE REINSTATEMENT OF BALDWIN, No. 2003-BR-00043-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 25, 2003
    ...the appearance of the practice of law in contravention of our order of disbarment." In re Parsons, 2003 WL 21982905 at *4 (¶ 18), 890 So.2d 40, 44 (Miss.2003). Under the circumstances, Baldwin did more than just create the "appearance" of practicing law. He appears to even hold himself out ......

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