Category Archive: Uncategorized

Mississippi Now Requires Additional Law School After Three Bar Exam Failures

For any licensed attorneys out there – or hopeful law students – who want to practice in the state of Mississippi, you should know that if you fail the state bar exam three times, you are required to go back to law school if want to take a fourth crack at it.

Board of Bar Examiners’ Petition

The Mississippi state supreme court granted the Mississippi Board of Bar Examiners’ petition requiring 12 (yes, 12) additional semester hours of law school for those applicants who want to make a fourth attempt at passing the state bar examination. Two justices filed objections to granting the petition.

About 23 jurisdictions in the nation place a limit on the number of times an applicant can sit for its state bar exam. Some jurisdictions place certain conditions on applicants who are retaking the examination, such as waiting a year before reattempting or getting permission before taking it again.

Mississippi Bar Examination Statistics

269 applicants sat for the Mississippi state bar examination in 2018. The passing rate was under 50%. According to the petition submitted to the Mississippi supreme court, about 40% of applicants sitting for the Mississippi bar are repeat test takers, which significantly negatively affects bar passing rates.

Some note that there is no data supporting or denying the idea that additional legal education would help a return bar taker pass after three attempts. Many in the legal field advocate that there should be an absolute limit on the number of failures. No other state except for Mississippi has imposed a rule requiring additional legal education in order to retake the bar examination. Others feel a rule should have been imposed precluding an applicant from having any more chances to pass the bar after five failures.

According to data from the American Bar Association Journal, 47 of the University of Mississippi’s law school graduates sat for the bar in 2018 and had a 72.34% passing rate. As for Mississippi College, the state’s other law school, 74 law school graduates sat for the bar exam in 2018 and had a 48.65% passing rate.

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Attorneys Should Not Share Login Credentials With Vendors, Courts Urge

 

 Earlier this year, U.S. federal courts sent notices to attorneys across the country urging them not to share login credentials with their vendors. The concern is that vendors could have access to the attorneys’ confidential information. Accordingly, courts have asked lawyers across the nation to exercise caution when providing login credentials to a provider in order to grant them the ability to manage files. This advice coming from federal courts is also a warning to those attorneys who may be sharing login credentials to vendors at the state level.

Court Notices

 Numerous federal district courts and bankruptcy courts sent notices out to attorneys regarding these privacy issues. While each message varied, the general warning was the same: Beware when providing login credentials with docket service vendors, as there is a risk of giving them access to sealed or confidential information. Since more and more courts across the United States are using e-filing and other online systems, and many lack the ability to integrate software with the court’s systems, the use of third-party vendors is appealing. While doing so may take a load off of staff, consideration of possible rule and ethics violations should not be looked over. This concern is especially true considering the position taken by federal courts across the nation, with state courts likely to follow.

There are, however, other concerns beyond the sharing of confidential information with third-party vendor include about which attorneys should be concerned.

Other Issues

For one, errors can happen when uploading documents into the court’s docketing system. If the information uploaded to the court e-filing system be incorrect or inaccurate it is not as simple a task as hitting delete to get rid of the information. Indeed, once a document has been uploaded into the court’s docketing system it becomes part of the court’s records. In order to remove the misinformation from the court’s records, a motion to strike must be filed, paid for, and approved by the court. If a third-party vendor uploads incorrect information into the court’s system, the ramifications can be significant if that error goes unnoticed until someone else sees it, like the presiding judge or opposing counsel.

Another real concern is liability. This is because any information provided or entered into the court’s system under a lawyer’s credentials, irrespective of who actually entered and/or uploaded this information, is the ultimate responsibility of that attorney. Simply put, if a document is uploaded into the court’s system and personal identifying or other confidential information has not been redacted, the attorney is responsible for that disclosure. For this reason, the ability to upload and edit documents should be in the hands of very few and trusted individuals.

No matter what you or your law firm decides to do, be sure to protect both the attorneys and clients when handling confidential information.

 

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Pro Se Criminal Defendant Gets Acquittal on Murder Charge  

An inmate from Pennsylvania who served more than a decade in prison on a murder charge recently won an acquittal in his pro se representation on appeal in a fourth trial, according to a report published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. After just an 81-minute deliberation, the jury acquitted defendant Hassan Bennett in the 2006 shooting death of one teenager and the wounding of another, according to reports by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Post. Bennett was just 23 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison.

 

Procedural History

 

Bennett stated he was in his home on the phone when he overheard gunshots. He ran outside of his home to investigate. The two teenagers involved were friends. According to the prosecutor’s theory of the case, Bennett had planned the crime as a result of losing $20 to one of the victims in a game of dice.

 

The first trial for Bennett’s case, which was held in 2008, ended in a mistrial due to jury tampering. In the second trial, later that same year, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Bennett won a new trial, however, based on his appellate arguments regarding ineffective assistance of counsel. A third trial, held in 2018, resulted in a hung jury. Bennett represented himself.

 

The Fourth Trial

 

In the fourth trial, which began in April of 2019, Bennett also represented himself. He argued that law enforcement detectives coerced the shooting victim who survived and a co-defendant to identify him as the assailant. The detective in question has had similar accusations against him in at least 10 other cases.

 

Bennett argued to the jury that prosecutors failed to call the detective to testify, and accused the witness of coercion. The shooting victim and the co-defendant recanted their statements during trial that identified Bennett as the shooter. Bennett also introduced evidence including phone records to support his story, as well as three corroborating witnesses.

 

Self Taught Advocate

 

The newspapers reported that Bennett studied the law in the prison library when he began to represent himself in the appeal. His cellmate would destroy his written documents if they were not properly formatted. According to the reports, Bennett is considering a legal career as a result of his appellate success. Bennett is a high school graduate. He has accepted a position with his standby attorney performing paralegal and investigative work.

 

To read more about the case, click here.

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Georgia Supreme Court Caseload Increases While Court of Appeals Caseload Decreases Despite Changes in the Law

In 2016, Georgia legislators expanded the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. In doing so, the new legislation shifted a large amount of cases from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals. Nonetheless, neither court’s caseload has changed, and the reason for this lack of difference is complicated, according to the Daily Report.

Changes in Georgia Law

Nearly three years ago, legislation was signed into law in Georgia adding two new justices to its Supreme Court  and three new judges to the Court of Appeals. The law also moved a sizable amount of the Georgia Supreme Court’s  caseload to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Ironically, while the number of Supreme Court opinions issued was reduced slightly, the court’s actual caseload increased. Moreover, despite the expansion in the Court of Appeals to handle cases shifted from the high court, such as property title, alimony, wills, divorce, equity and some extraordinary remedy cases, the lower court saw a slight reduction in caseload.

The reasons behind this lack of change despite new legislation is complicated. The Daily Report notes that representatives from each court list several factors including the availability of court resources, the types of cases counted, and statutory deadlines governing how fast an appeal must be decided.

By the Numbers

According to figures provided to the Daily Report, the Georgia Supreme Court justices heard 151 oral arguments in 2017, while they heard 109 in 2018. The number of direct appeals to the high court dropped to 426 in 2018 as compared to 539 in 2017. Petitions for certiorari, however, increased to 523 in 2018 as compared to 466 in 2017. According to the court’s chief information officer, the 2016 Georgia legislation shifted about 25% of the cases under the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to the Court of Appeals. The Georgia Court of Appeals, on the other hand, reported handling 2,187 direct appeals in 2018. This number was just one less than 2017. The number of cases had been decreasing steadily since its peak in 2013 of 2,569 cases.

Jurisdiction of Courts

The Georgia Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and its decisions are typically the last word on a case unless petitioned for appeal to the United States Supreme Court if they involve an issue relating to federal constitutional law. The Georgia Supreme Court reviews decisions made by the lower court in both civil and criminal matters. The Court addresses questions involving criminal cases in which the death sentence was, or could have been, imposed; the constitutionality of state laws; petitions of decisions from the Court of Appeals; and election contests.

The Georgia Court of Appeals, on the other hand, is the intermediate appellate court in the state. Established in 1906, the court has 15 judges who serve in its five divisions. The Court has jurisdiction statewide in all cases except for those that involve murder, constitutional questions, and habeas corpus, when original appellate jurisdiction falls with the Supreme Court. Additionally, the Court of Appeals may certify legal questions to the Supreme Court for decision.

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