Dispatches from the Federal Court
Article byPosted Featured AuthorSeptember 2019
2019 Bar Convention
Judges from both the Northern and Southern District attended the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Bar at the Sandestin Beach Resort in Florida. The Courts’ Clerks, David Crews and Arthur Johnston, presented a CLE program on the workings of the Courts, and Magistrate Judge David Sanders and District Judge Keith Starrett presented a CLE program on their views from the bench. As is customary, the Courts provided the speaker for the General Assembly. This year’s speaker was Mark Lanterman, the Chief Technology Officer for Computer Forensic Services. If you weren’t there, you missed some great tips on cyber-protection and a fascinating tour of the Dark Web, including crime scene photographs of the artist Prince. (My daughter-in-law, Stevie, says she is traumatized for life.) The Federal Courts also hosted a breakfast for members of the Bar.
At the Alumni Luncheon for the University of Mississippi’s School of Law, Arthur Johnston was recognized as the Outstanding Alumni for 2019, a well-deserved honor. Sadly, this was the last year that Chief Judge Carl Stewart will represent the Fifth Circuit in that role, as his term ends at the end of September. We will miss him, and we hope he comes back in a personal capacity. More than once Judge Stewart expressed his gratitude for the warmth and camaraderie he experienced at the Mississippi Bar’s meeting, and he will strongly recommend to his successor, Judge Priscilla Owen, that this outreach be continued.
In 2018, the United States Congress passed the “Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent Act of 2018,” or the “POWER Act.” Recognizing the high rate of domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault cases in this country, the Act finds that efforts should be made in all forums to provide legal representation to the victims of those crimes. Accordingly, the District Courts are required to conduct annual public events designed to encourage attorneys to provide pro bono legal services to these victims.
The Northern District sponsored a program on May 30, at All Saints Episcopal Church in Tupelo. Speakers included a Chancery Court Judge, a representative from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, a psychologist who works with victims, and the Tribal Prosecutor for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
The Southern District’s program was held on July 23 at the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson. Chancellor Denise Sweet-Owens, Chancellor Cynthia Brewer, County Court Judge Kent McDaniel and County Court Judge Staci O’Neal led a panel discussion on the special need for legal assistance in these cases. At the end of the program, several lawyers expressed an interest in volunteering. The Court is grateful for the assistance of several entities who assisted in the planning, including Gayla Carpenter-Sanders, Executive Director and General Counsel for the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project.
The Mississippi Settlement Assistance Program
is a joint collaboration between the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project and the Southern District to provide free legal assistance to low-income pro se litigants in civil matters before the Court. Specifically, the program is designed to assist litigants with resolution of cases, provide federal court mediation experience to attorneys who are certified to volunteer with this program, and help clear the Court’s pro se docket. It is available to non-prisoner and incarcerated individuals who have filed pro se civilrights claims.
Training programs were held earlier in the year, both in Jackson and Hattiesburg, and a panel of certified lawyers is available. Those attorneys will review the pleadings to draft or respond to a settlement demand letter, draft the required Confidential Settlement Memorandum, and participate in settlement conferences. Their representation is limited to those duties; however, lawyers may eventually take these cases on a paying basis. The Judges are currently identifying potential cases, and some attorneys in the program have already participated in settlement negotiations before the Court.
Model Intern Diversity Pilot
As part of the Administrative Office’s strategic plan for creating diversity in judicial employees, federal courts have been encouraged to promote workplace diversity by hiring college students drawn from disadvantaged communities to serve as interns. The Southern District has the second program in the country, and Emanuel Lewis, a Tougaloo student, is working in Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson’s office. He is available to do limited research and document organization, as well as shredding sensitive documents. The program aims to expose these students to a wide range of legal and non-legal careers.