Friday, June 23, 2017

Michael Winfield tries to use incompetence as an excuse but is still disbarred.

A Mississippi Supreme Court Complaint Tribunal disbarred Vicksburg Attorney Michael Winfield from the practice of law on June 6.  Mr. Winfield conspired with a client to defraud an estate and a Chancellor so they could split $50,000 in 2013.  Mr. Winfield is the brother for former Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield.  Paul Winfield was convicted of bribery while Mayor. JJ first reported on Michael Winfield's inability to properly practice law in a 2014 post, A Lesson in How not to Practice Law, that covered a different case.

This passage from the opinion spells out what Mr. Winfield did very succinctly:

Mr. Winfield was hired to open an Estate to obtain authority to settle a claim of the Estate. He failed to properly investigate and determine who the heirs at law were of the decedent therefore who was entitled to inherit the proceeds of the claim of the Estate. He received the settlement funds ($50,000.00) on November 6, 2013 from the settlement of the Estate claim and deposited them into his ''trust" account. He immediately, the same day and without court approval, paid himself $5,000.00 from the 'Watson Settlement". He testified he and his client were having communication problems related to trying to get her to understand she could not "just spend the money". He decided to withdraw from representing the Estate. On November 18, 2013 he wrote a check payable to his client personally, which permitted her to "just spend the money". On November 19, 2013 he presented a Motion and Order withdrawing to Chancery Court, but did not advise the Chancery Judge what he had done with the Estate assets. On the same day, he wrote a check to himself for $2,000.00 from the Watson Settlement funds.  Mr. Winfield was also ordered by the Chancery Court to pay the missing money back to the Estate in 2013. He did not even began to do so until the week before the tribunal trial in this matter. Mr. Winfield's  actions  and inaction  clearly  demonstrate  he  engaged  in conduct that was prejudicial  to  the  administration of justice.
There were actually nine heirs to the estate.  The wayward attorney and his client told the court that only his client and her brother were the heirs even though their mother was still alive. This creates a problem:

The problem was neither were the heirs at law of Aubrey Watson and, in fact, their own mother was still living. As the daughter of Aubrey Watson, such would exclude either of her children as heirs at law. The brother of Feletha Watson was not a party to the Petition either. On the said date, the Chancellor issued an Order Appointing Feletha Watson as Administrator and granting Letters of Administration upon her taking the statutory  oath, which  she never did.

It also appears that Mr. Winfield might not have known how to operate a trust account for his practice:

During the course of the tribunal trial, the tribunal requested Mr. Winfield to provide a copy of his trust account records if available. Subsequent to the tribunal trial, Winfield's trust account records were filed with the Supreme Court Clerk by Mr. Winfield and provided to the tribunal for consideration. A copy of his bank account statement at River Hills Bank was filed on or about March 6, 2017. The account from which Mr. Winfield disbursed funds does not appear to be "IOLTA trust account" as required by Rule 1.15, MRPC. A review of the account shows it earns interest on his client funds, which would not be paid to the Bar, but to Mr. Winfield, a form of commingling. General Counsel has verified that at the present time, the Bar Foundation has no record of Mr. Winfield's having an IOLTA account as mandated by Rule 1.15.

The Court blistered Mr. Winfield and his ability to practice law after making these findings:

The nature of the misconduct here is threefold. Mr. Winfield obviously lacked the requisite competence to handle relatively simple estate matter. He was unable or unwilling  to be candid with the Chancery  Court.   And,  he  converted estate  funds and enabled his client to convert Estate assets to her personal use. The nature of the conduct
is egregious....

The opinion also points out how Winfield intentionally lied to the court.  He was writing checks to his client and communicating with her while at the same time telling the Chancellor he couldn't communicate with his client.  However, the tribunal pointed out the real harm done:

 Essentially,  the  heirs of Aubrey Watson were deprive of their inheritance by Mr. Winfield's actions and inactions. The Chancery Court found Mr. Winfield in contempt and ordered him to repay the Estate $40,000.00 lost to the heirs.  Mr. Winfield made no attempt to comply with the Chancery Court's  order until faced with the tribunal trial....
The Chancellor had ordered Mr. Winfield to repay the money within ninety days yet he didn't repay it until the week before his disbarment hearing that was three years later.

Never let it be said that this attorney does not try to outdo himself in brazenness. Mr. Winfield apparently argued that the Court should go easy on him because he is an incompetent lawyer:

Mr. Winfield's position appears to be that his lack of competency should be a mitigating  factor.   A  lack  of  competency  is  not a mitigating  factor.   Rather,  it  is an aggravating factor in this case.
The tribunal disbarred Mr. Winfield from the practice of law for at least three years.  He must repay the bar for all investigative costs before he can even apply for readmission.  The Presiding Judge was David Strong.  He and Tim Holleman voted for disbarment while Warren Conway disagreed and recommended a one-year suspension.  Mr. Winfield was admitted to the bar in 2000. 

Kingfish note: It is quite clear the Court had enough of Mr. Winfield's incompetence and true contempt for courts. We have seen Mr. Winfield's shenanigans before.  Mr. Winfield got into trouble with the Mississippi Supreme Court a few years ago.  JJ reported on July 18 2014:

 Blowing off the Supreme Court is never a good idea. Vicksburg attorney Michael Winfield found out how true that little fact is when he decided to ignore a Mississippi Supreme Court order to show up and explain why the court should not discipline him.  Mr. Winfield is the brother of the former Vicksburg Mayor and convict Paul Winfield. The court ordered Mr. Winfield to appear on April 30 and explain why he should not be held in contempt of court.  Mr. Winfield would not have appeared in court if the clerk had not called him on order from the Supremes.  In other words, he made the justices track him down. Not very smart.  The hearing was supposed to start at 1:30. He finally appeared after 2:00. The wayward lawyer claimed he received the notice but didn't put it on his calendar. Needless to say, the justices were none too amused with his excuses as is evident in the video below.....

 There is no way to put it: The court chewed out Mr. Winfield after he appeared over a half-hour after the hearing was supposed to begin.  Keep in mind the court had to have a clerk find him or else he would not have appeared before them- as he admitted.  Mr. Winfield admitted he did not place the hearing on his calendar.  He said he had two hearings that morning and that he did not appear because he had to attend a meeting between a Canton teacher and her superintendent.  The justices were incredulous that he did not appear nor place the date on his calendar (See the transcript below, its entertaining.).  Justice Kitchens said if he had received such a notice from the Supreme Court, he would have "camped out the night before" and thought about the hearing every "waking moment".

The Court ended up issuing the following sanctions:   $500 for being late to the show cause hearing to  be paid at $100 a month starting June 1. Winfield was also ordered to pay $1500 in expenses to the lawyers for Vicksburg Health System  at $100 a month.

However, Mr. Winfield still did not take the Court seriously after that ass-chewing. JJ reported on August 1, 2014 that the Mississippi Supreme Court held yet another hearing on Mr. Winfield's ability to obey the Court on July 24:

The Mississippi Supreme Court took no action on two contempt of court motions filed against Vicksburg attorney Michael Winfield by Vicksburg Healthcare. The court held a hearing on July 24 to decide whether to hold Mr. Winfield in contempt after he failed to make payments as ordered by the court on April 30.  The court ordered the wayward attorney to pay $500 in sanction monthly installments of $100 and attorney's fees to Vicksburgh Healthcare in monthly installments as well.  Mr. Winfield paid the sanctions and fees in full a few days before this hearing- after Vicksburg filed its motions for contempt.  Mr. Winfield drew the sanctions and a serious ass-chewing from the court when he failed to appear at a show cause hearing on April 30.  Mr. Winfield appeared at the hearing forty-five minutes late- after the court ordered the clerk to contact Mr. Winfield as the justices waited.  A full court presided over the July 24 hearing.  Earlier post and rather entertaining videos.

Mr. Winfield also admitted he didn't know how to use the Mississippi Electronic Court system as well.  The tribunal did the right thing in disbarring Mr. Winfield.  He clearly has no business practicing law.


Anonymous said...

Amazing he was ever able to get into law school, pass, and pass the bar int he first place.

Anonymous said...

Conway knows a thing or 2 about being incompetent.

Anonymous said...

And some are talking about lowering the standard for passing the bar. (insert puzzled look)

Anonymous said...

I managed to get kicked off an Ole Miss smack board for making an untoward remark about Mayor Paul Winfield when he was headed to prison.

George flags is doing a remarkable job and I like him a lot (from a distance since I don't know him). I'm white and George is Black but I have respect and admiration for him, having watched and listened to him since way back in his legislative days.

I know this is off topic, but....oh well.

Anonymous said...

Paul Winfield is a Vicksburg native, a graduate of Warren Central High School and the University of Mississippi, where he was a defensive back on the Ole Miss Rebels football team. He has a law degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge.

His brother Michael is the one claiming to be deranged.

Paul has been released from prison and now works in the law offices of Dennis Sweet in Jackson.

You lay down smack regarding an Ole Myth Rebul and you gonna pay a price.

Anonymous said...

With all the cuts in mental health, how can we be sure there are not hundreds of mentally incompetent lawyers practicing in Mississippi?

Anonymous said...

Convicted felon Paul Winfield working in the offices of Dennis Sweet -- how appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Wow---it must be something in the water in Vicksburg---Paul Winfield, Michael Winfield and BEN ALLEN---they all came from Vicksburg.

BEWARE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Rudy Warnock is from Vicksburg as well...

Anonymous said...

What's sad is that his incompetence was notorious, but it took dishonesty to get him disbarred. The Bar, and the Court, should expect more. But they don't.

Tight End said...

As a former Rebel and member of the UMAA 'M' Club, Paul (and his brother Michael) got to attend many a football contest up in Oxford, free. Who says those stands are not filled with mentally incompetent people?

Anonymous said...

At some point protecting the public from idiot lawyers has to become a priority.

BTW for those of you who don't know it.....lawyers in Mississippi are NOT required to carry errors and omissions (malpractice) insurance.

Kingfish said...

He should've been prosecuted by the DA or AG for embezzlement. He didn't repay it for three years until the week before the tribunal met.

Lawyers Skate.. said...

"He should've been prosecuted by the DA or AG for embezzlement."

So....what's your theory on why that did not happen?

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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