(In)justice court?

July 29, 2011

Legal Affairs

A proposed rule change that would require certain businesses to be represented by an attorney when appearing in justice court in a civil case has both the business community and justice court judges up in arms.

With the proposal, known as Rule 2.12, now pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court, the justice court judges and business advocates are rallying to see the proposal shelved — and quickly.

“The board of directors of the Mississippi Justice Court Judges Association is not in favor of Rule 2.12,” said Hon. Clark Secoy, a justice court judge in Sharkey County and president of the Mississippi Justice Court Judges Association. “Personally, I think Rule 2.12 would be a burden on a lot of businesses that currently file claims in justice court. I hope the Supreme Court will realize this and not approve Rule 2.12.”

Late last month, the Association held its annual convention on the Coast, and Secoy said Rule 2.12 dominated conversations.

“It’s a bad, bad, bad, bad rule,” said Jimmy Morton, a justice court judge in Hinds County who served on the committee that proposed the rule. “It would alter the landscape of justice courts forever.”

Even though he served on the committee, even Morton was unsure exactly how or why the proposed rule change was introduced.

“This was not in response to any complaints or issues. It came out of nowhere. In essence, it’s trying to fix something that isn’t broken,” Morton said.

He added that the mission of the committee’s work was to ensure uniformity of forms and procedures across all of the state’s justice courts. The requirement of attorney representation was outside the committee’s intended purpose, he said.

When the proposal was enacted and filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court, Morton resigned from the committee.

“I don’t want to make it sound like it was high drama,” Morton said. “I simply told them I didn’t want my name attached to Rule 2.12. The committee did some great work. But after spending countless hours in meetings and all of the work I put in, I would rather see all of our proposals die than see this bad rule implemented.”

Both Morton and Secoy said the person who could give more details on exactly how Rule 2.12 came about in the first place is Jerry Jones, a justice court judge in Webster County and chair of the Justice Court Rules Committee. Jones filed the proposed rule change with the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Attempts to reach Jones by press time were unsuccessful.

Rule 2.12 “requires corporations, limited liability companies or partnerships that are parties to be represented by an attorney.” In essence, this includes all businesses except sole proprietorships.

Proponents of the rule “were concerned that an officer or manager of a corporation, limited liability company or partnership commencing a civil action on behalf of a corporation, limited liability company or partnership would be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of section 73-3-55 of the Mississippi Code.

“Article 3, Section 25 of the Mississippi Constitution permits a person to represent himself, per se, in a civil proceeding, but it does not appear to extend the privilege beyond a personal claim.”

The committee added, “To accept the advantages of incorporating or forming a partnership, and then demand the benefits of individual ownership, seems a bit untenable.”

On the other side of the argument, the committee wrote that members against Rule 2.12 felt it “…would fundamentally alter the role of justice courts in handling small claims filed by local businesses and apartment owners. This position is consistent with several other states that permit corporate officers or employees to present small claims…”

Morton was quick to point out that legal representation would be required whether a business is the plaintiff or defendant. If a tire shop wanted to go to court to collect on a $400 unpaid bill, it would need an attorney, he said. If that same business was brought to justice court by a customer claiming those tires were mounted incorrectly, the tire shop would need an attorney for that, too.

Ron Aldridge, head of the National Federation of Independent Business/Mississippi, said, “This court is the ‘people’s court,’ and one of its purposes is to provide the most economical justice — one that is affordable for all. This rule would negate that most worthy goal.

“Many small businesses routinely utilize the Justice Court for ongoing matters such as the collection of open accounts, bad checks and past due rents and the need to have either tenants or storage items removed for non-payment, as well as many other matters.

“The enormous expense of being required to hire an attorney in these routine business matters would shut down many businesses. It’s a job-killer and tax revenue reducer.”

It might be a while before the Mississippi Supreme Court makes a decision.

The proposed rule was filed May 10. The first step is a review of the rule by the Court, which can decide to shelve it or make recommendations and/or amendments. There is no set time frame for the Court review.

If the rule makes it through the review, it is open to public comment. Typically, public comment periods are for 30 days, but can vary.

After the public review, the Court would then make its final decision.

This can be a lengthy process. As example, another proposed rule change concerning judicial conduct is ahead of Rule 2.12 on the docket. That earlier proposed rule was filed in April 2010, and is yet to see final decision from the Court.

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8 Responses to “(In)justice court?”

  1. Licensed Says:

    There is already a rule that corporations must be represented by attorneys. Most Justice Court Judges don’t know the rules. I am an attorney and have not had much luck in trying to explain the laws or the rules to these judges, most of whom have only a high school education or less. One does not allow “law books” in his courtroom because he “just wants to do what is right.” We could save a fortune if we abolished that court, created District Courts with full time judges who are attorneys to handle all matters now handled by Justice Courts and Youth Courts. I calculated the savings to be over $35,000,000.00 per year, and you would have full-time knowledgable judges taking care of these important matters while saving a fortune. Abolish the Justice Courts.

  2. Ed Clynch Says:

    Sounds like a way to employ lawyers. Businesses will use lawyers when necessary. Small claims like the examples of the tire shop do not need lawyers–especially collecting a bill

  3. Rwolf Says:

    Rule 2.12 is a Rule to make attorneys RICH.

  4. T STEWART Says:

    ANOTHER KICK TO THE WORK HORSES OF AMERICA!!!!! THE CLASS OF PEOPLE THAT FUNDED AMERICA FOR ALL OF THESE YEARS IS BEING TRAMPLED ON… WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!!!

  5. Chalrles Says:

    @ License

    Your absolutely incorrect; small claims in most courts in the USA widely accept that non-attorney representation can be performed, the courts conceder it non-attorney representation not pro-se. Now if you get out of small claims and try to represent your case in the higher courts I have seen circuit courts, and federal courts allow this. Why; because some businesses are so small the cost of legal counsel would put an undue burden on the business that only has say two employees, but they caution it will poke holes in the corporate vial. In court cases above small claims you can only be represented by counsel or pro-se so for all legal purpose when you are allowed by the courts to proceed you have eliminated your corporate status for all legal purposes.

  6. Havaneiss Dei Says:

    @ Chalrles

    (a) Obviously, you’re incompetent; however, I must assert that License is correct. If you had any idea what you were writing about, you’d understand that the proposed Rule affects Mississippi Procedure and practice — and not “small claims in most courts in the USA.”

    Having so stated,

    (1) Please identify every state exemplar supporting your claim that non-party non-attorney representation is allowed in the equivalent of a Justice Court of the State of Mississippi.

    (2) Please identify every state exemplar supporting your claim that non-party non-attorney representation is allowed in a circuit court.

    (3) Please identify every federal exemplar supporting your claim that non-party non-attorney representation is allowed in a federal court.

    In each case, the exemplar must include sufficient specificity to verify your claim; to wit: (A) each state exemplar must include the name of the state in which non-party non-attorney representation is presently allowed, and either (i) the specific Rule of Civil Procedure plainly so stating, or (ii) the proper identity of a representative court of the described nature and competence, together with the style and date of at least one case in which such non-party non-attorney representation was allowed; and (B) each federal exemplar must include the name of the federal court in which non-party non-attorney representation is presently allowed, and either (i) the specific Rule of Civil Procedure plainly so stating, or (ii) the style and date of at least one case in which such non-party non-attorney representation was allowed. In each case, the year shall suffice for the date when there are in the same year no other cases having identical style.

    Be aware that testifying as a witness, even asserting opinions — as is often the case in (in)Justice Court — does not qualify as legal representation.

    If you do not satisfactorily answer the above 3 enumerated requests, you will have proved in this matter that you are an inveterate liar, and that your testimony cannot be believed.

    From personal experience, I know for a fact that such practice is not allowed in either the Justice Courts or the Circuit Courts of Mississippi.

    (b) I don’t know what sort of wacky weed you’ve been smoking on your fantastic planet but, contrary to your claim, there is no automatic waiver of corporate status for entities party to a dispute in an upper court.

    (c) It’s _consider_, not _conceder_ (and if that’s your attempt at humor — a play on the root _concede_ — meh)

    (d) The term is _corporate veil_, not _corporate vial_ (although as a parody, your version provides great humor and amusement).

    (e) Until you’ve seen the circus that is Justice Court in Mississippi, you have no valid opinion. The common joke in Mississippi is that Justice Court is neither just nor court. Judges “object” to objections properly stated (no kidding); they look to the local prosecutor (who IS an attorney) for cues regarding what they should do: it’s ridiculous, it’s absurd, it’s shameful — and it’s routine.

    In Mississippi, courts are heavily prejudiced in favor of businesses; I’m not saying there is necessarily anything wrong with that — but I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything right with that, either. In Mississippi, this is the product of social conditions to which the courts have been forced to respond without the aid of proper law, coupled with the fact that the courts are organized to provide for the civil redress of grievances.

    As far as education is concerned, Justice Court judges in Mississippi were until very recently required to have only a GED or high-school diploma; even now, the standard in Mississippi for Justice Court judges is very low. Everyone would be better-served by having as judges only bona fide attorneys.

    In Mississippi Circuit Court, I prevailed pro se against a foreign corporation defendant represented by a multi-attorney firm located perhaps 100 feet from the courthouse; I lived in a different city and had only a few hours of college education (and no degree) to my credit — but I wouldn’t have made it without the assistance of attorneys who shared with me vital clues regarding where to find the information I needed, and their opinions of my understanding.

    And if I had it to do over (God forbid), I would not hesitate to hire an attorney to represent me: the benefits of having a competent attorney far outweigh the hidden costs of emotional distress, and other issues that don’t immediately surface.

    When you’re injured, you need an advocate that can state your case within the framework of the law, and if you’re defending against an accusation, you need an advocate that can state your case within the framework of the law: in court, relying on yourself (even if you manage to eventually prevail) is S-T-U-P-I-D!

    A Rule requiring corporate concerns to be represented by counsel won’t change the outcome for those too stupid to hire an attorney for their defense, but it would almost certainly improve consistency and professionalism in Mississippi Justice Courts.

  7. Reba G. Cook Says:

    This must have originated with the Miss. Bar Association. It should be called the “rule for employment of lawyers”.

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