You are on page 1of 19

FILED

JUN 06 2017
SUPREME COURT OF MISSISSIPPI
COMPLAINT TRIBUNAL OFFICE OF THE CLERK
SUPREME COURT
COURT OF APPEALS

THE MISSISSIPPI BAR COMPLAINANT

vs. CAUSE NO. 2015-B-1430

MICHAELE. WINFIELD RESPONDENT

OPINION AND FINAL JUDGMENT

The Tribunal have convened on February 2, 2017, beginning at 9:00 a.m. in the

Court of Appeals Courtroom of the Mississippi Supreme Court Courthouse located at 450

High Street in Jackson, Mississippi and the parties having appeared in person and

through counsel and presented the evidence and arguments to the Tribunal and the

Tribunal having heard and considered the same renders the following Opinion and Final

Judgment, to wit:

VIOLATIONS

At the outset it should be noted that at the Trial of this matter there was no real

dispute that Michael E. Winfield violated the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct

("MRPC") and, in fact, Mr. Winfield and his counsel conceded such, but the Bar and

Winfield disagree as to appropriate punishment, therefore the a majority of the Tribunal

finds, as follows:

A. Rule 1.1, MRPC. This rule provides that a lawyer must provide competent

representation to a client. Here, the evidence showed that Mr. Winfield lacked the

professional competence to perform fundamental tasks necessary to administer a simple

estate matter, particularly with regard to determining the lawful heirs of the decedent, in
ATIEST
ATNICopy
Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment This 1he & 1 dBX_of
ai.A----- 20~
Office of ... C1erk

~cl>~
handling of an Estate in general and particularly the assets of an Estate. For the most

part, Mr. Winfield candidly admitted such. On September 12, 2013, Feletha Watson, a

granddaughter of the decedent, through Mr. Winfield, petitioned the Chancery Court of

Adams County, Mississippi to be appointed Administrator of the Estate of Aubrey Watson.

Ms Watson alleged she and her brother were the two heirs at law of Aubrey Watson , as

his grandchildren. 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. Neither Ms Watson nor Mr. Winfield filed the

statutory oath therefore no Letters of Administration were ever issued granting her, or her

attorney, Mr. Winfield authority to act on behalf of the Estate of Aubrey Watson. Therefore

clearly there was no authority for either Ms Watson or Mr. Winfield to act on behalf of the

Estate of Aubrey Watson, deceased.

Despite such, Mr. Winfield applied for and received a $50 ,000.00 settlement, from

the "black farmers" class action on behalf of non-existent estate. No authority of the Court

as sought to approve said settlement. Winfield accepted the funds and deposited such

to his "trust" account on November 6, 2013. He immediately paid himself a fee of

$5,000.00, again without any authority of the Court and without an Estate having been

finally opened. On November 18, 2013, he also wrote a check to Feletha Watson for

$43,000.00, again without Letters of Administration even being issued and without Court

order authorizing such. This check was written to Ms Watson personally which permitted

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 2


her to purloin the Estate's and its heirs' only asset. On November 19, 2013 Winfield wrote

himself another check for $2,000.00 without authority. On the same day he sought and

obtained an order allowing him to withdraw as attorney for the Estate of Aubrey Watson ,

deceased. Ultimately, the Chancery Court discovered that the settlement funds had been

purloined from the Estate, recovered part from Feletha Watson and ordered Mr. Winfield

to repay the balance of $40 ,000.00. He did not do so until just before the tribunal trial.

Further, the evidence showed a complete lack of competence regarding rules of court

and professional responsibility and -compliance with the Orders of the Chancery Court.

B. Rule 1.S(a), MRPC. This rule provides that a lawyer's fee must be

reasonable. Mr. Winfield admits he paid himself a fee of $5,000.00 without court approval

and his trust account records show he received an additional $2,000.00 by check payable

to himself, although he claims he gave $1 ,000.00 cash to his client, who was not an heir

at law and not entitled thereto in any event. Regardless any fee to Mr. Winfield was per

se unreasonable, because the fee was paid without authority and never approved by the

Court in the estate matter as clearly required by law. The Chancery Judge, in fact,

ordered him to reimburse the estate for the entire amount of the fee because it had not

been so approved.

C. Rule 1.1 S{a), MRPC. This rule provides that a lawyer must hold the

property of clients and third parties separate from the lawyer's own property. When Mr.

Winfield took a fee without court approval and failed to reimburse the estate for a period

of almost three (3) years , he converted at least $5,000.00 to his own use and a another

check payable to Mr. Winfield personally for $2,000.00, which rightfully belonged to the

estate. This constitutes a violation of this rule, as he did not keep $7,000.00 belonging to

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 3


the Estate separate from his "own property". While Mr. Winfield finally reimbursed the

estate the week before and the day before tribunal trial such does not diminish the fact

that he converted funds of the estate without Court authority. See Cotton v. Miss. Bar,

809 So. 2d 582, 587 (Miss. 2000).

D. Rule 1.1 S(b), MRPC. This rule provides that a lawyer must notify a client

or third party that he has received funds in which they have an interest. In this case, Mr.

Winfield failed to notify one of the two alleged heirs he erroneously listed in his petition

as being the sole heirs of the estate that he had received funds to which the alleed heir

might be entitled. Feletha Watson erroneously told Winfield her brother was also an heir

but Winfield never had any contact with him or advised him of the receipt of purported

funds in his possession which he might have an "interest" in. Further, he paid himself

$7,000.00 and wrote a check to Feletha Watson for $43,000.00 without ever having at

least contacting or advising her brother his purported interest therein. He also failed to

investigate and determine who, in fact, the proper heirs to the Estate were and to notify

those heirs, he had received funds to which the alleged heirs might be entitled.

Additionally, he failed to notify the Chancery Court that he had received funds on behalf

of the Estate, in order that the Court could protect the unknown heirs and set a bond as

required by law.

E. Rule 3.3(a)(1), MRPC. This rule provides that a lawyer shall not knowingly

make a false statement of material fact to a tribunal. This rule was violated irrespective

of whether Mr. Winfield made an affirmative misrepresentation to the court or simply

misled the Court by his silence. Although the evidence submitted raises serious issue of

an affirmative misrepresentation by Mr. Winfield. Mr. Winfield testified the he was having

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 4


a problem making his client understand that she could not just spend the money, therefore

because of his communication problems he decided to withdraw from representing the

Estate. Despite admittedly knowing that he was having a problem making his client

understand that she could not just spend the money, on November 18, 2013 wrote a

check payable to "Feletha Watson" personally instead of ''The Estate of Aubrey Watson ".

Doing so permitted "Feletha Watson" to "just spend the money" and convert the Estate

assets to her own use. The very next day (November 19) after writing a $43,000.00 check

payable to "Feletha. Watson" personally rather than the Estate, Mr. Winfield appeared

before the Chancery Judge and obtained an order allowing him to withdraw. Mr. Winfield

and the Chancellor testified that the stated reason for withdrawing was his inability to

communicate with his client, Feletha Watson. Mr. Winfield neglected to advise the

Chancery Judge that the day before (November 18, 2013) he had, in fact, communicated

with his client and had delivered to her a check payable to "Feletha Watson" personally

rather than the Estate in the amount of $43,000.00. On same day his trust account shows

he also wrote a check to himself for $2,000.00 "For: Aubrey Watson". Mr. Winfield's

failure to candidly advise the Chancery Court what had occurred within hours of his

requesting to authority withdraw, delivering $43,000.00 belonging to the Estate to Feletha

Watson, and paying himself another $2,000.00 strains all credibility and common sense

and cannot simply be characterized as misleading the Court by silence.

F. Rule 3.3(a)(2), MRPC. This rule provides that a lawyer shall not knowingly

fail to disclose a material fact to a tribunal when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting

a criminal or fraudulent act by the client. Mr. Winfield testified the he was having a

problem making his client understand that she could not just spend the money, therefore

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 5


because of his communication problems he decided to withdraw from representing the

Estate. Knowing that he was having a problem making his client understand that she

could not just spend the money, on November 18, 2013 he still wrote a check payable to

"Feletha Watson" personally instead of "The Estate of Aubrey Watson ". Doing so allowed

"Feletha Watson" to "just spend the money" and convert the Estate assets to her own

use. The very next day after writing a $43,000.00 check payable to "Feletha Watson"

personally rather than the Estate, Mr. Winfield appeared before the Chancery Judge and

obtained an order allowing him to withdraw. Mr. Winfield and the Chancellor testified that

the stated reason for withdrawing was his inability to communicate with his client, Feletha

Watson. Mr. Winfield did not advise the Chancery Judge that the day before (November

18, 2013) he had, in fact, communicated with his client and had delivered to her a check

payable to "Feletha Watson" personally rather than the Estate. On same day his trust

account shows he also wrote a check to himself for $2,000 .00 "For: Aubrey Watson ". Mr.

Winfield had a continuing duty to advise the Chancery Court of that fact as well as the

fact that he had already received and distributed the money of the estate pursuant to Rule

3.3(b), but failed to do so. At the very least, this constitutes evidence of his knowledge

that he failed to disclose material facts to the Chancery Court. As further evidence, Mr.

Winfield knowingly assisted his cl ient in taking estate funds she was not entitled to , he

paid part of the funds to her in cash so she could pay some bills immediately. Mr.

Winfield's actions were contrary to his own testimony he was having a problem making

his client understand that she "could not just spend the money". He actually assisted his

client in converting the estate asset to her personal uses and admits paid her "cash " to

assist her in paying bills immediately.

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 6


G. Rule 3.3(d), MRPC. This rule provides that a lawyer shall inform a tribunal

in an ex parte proceeding of all material facts known to the lawyer which will enable the

tribunal to make an informed decision. In this case, Mr. Winfield failed to inform the

tribunal of material facts regarding his withdrawal from the case, the reasons for his

withdrawal, the hearing on the petition he filed to determine heirs, his receipt of the

settlement proceeds, and his disbursement of the estate funds to Feletha Watson in her

individual capacity and to himself for his attorney fee.

H. Rule 8.4(d), MRPG. Rule 8.4(d) provides that it is professional misconduct

to engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. 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

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 7


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. As a matter of law, violation of a rule of

professional conduct is also a violation of this rule.

I. Rule 1.15, MRPC "IOLTA trust account"

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. Winfielcl 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. Mr. Winfield also testified at trial he took

a $6,000 fee out of the estate funds when he deposited the check to his trust account.

According the bank statement, he deposited the Settlement check to his account on

November 6, 2013. In fact, he took $5,000 on the same day, November 6, 2013 , and

then November 19, 2013 wrote himself a check another $2,000 for "Aubrey Watson". This

is the same day he appeared before the Chancery Judge to present an order to withdraw.

Such also conflicts with his testimony that he was paid $5,000.00 for his fee without court

approval and gave an additional $1,000.00 in cash to "Feletha Watson".

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 8


' I

Mr. Winfield also failed to file Request for Admissions, therefore the Bar requested

they be deemed admitted, Mr. Winfield admits he did not respond but claimed he was

deposed. A deposition is not a substitute for responding to Request for Admissions,

therefore as a result of Mr. Winfield's failure to respond the same are deemed admitted.

These admissions also establish violations of the Mississippi Rules of Professional

Conduct.

None of the above violations were seriously contested by Mr. Winfield and Mr.

Winfield candidly admitted that he had violated the Mississippi Rules of Professional

Conduct and that he agreed discipline was appropriate. The dispute primarily is on the

discipline to be imposed not whether discipline is appropriate or not. The Bar submits

that disbarment is appropriate. Mr. Winfield submits that a public reprimand, or if

suspension is in order, that such would be less than six months.

DISCIPLINE

There are nine factors which must be examined before imposing discipline:

1) The nature of the misconduct involved;


2) The need to deter similar misconduct;
3) The preservation of dignity and reputation of the legal profession;
4) The protection of the public;
5) Sanctions imposed in similar cases;
6) The duty violated;
7) The lawyer's mental state;
8) Actual or potential injury resulting from the misconduct; and
9) Existence of aggravating or mitigating factors.

Liebling v. The Mississippi Bar, 929 So. 2d 911 (Miss. 2006).

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

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 9


is egregious, when . consider that Mr. Winfield testified the he was having a problem

making his client understand that "she could not just spend the money", therefore

because of his communication problems he decided to withdraw from representing the

Estate. Knowing that he was having this problem of making his client understand that

she could not just spend the money, on November 18, 2013 despite such knowledge he

wrote a check payable to "Feletha Watson" personally instead of ''The Estate of Aubrey

Watson". Doing so permitted "Feletha Watson" to "just spend the money" and convert

the Estate assets to her own use. The very next day after writing a $43 ,000.?0 check

payable to "Feletha Watson" personally rather than the Estate, Mr. Winfield appeared

before the Chancery Judge and obtained an order allowing him to withdraw. Mr. Winfield

and the Chancellor testified that the stated reason for withdrawing was his inability to

communicate with his client, Feletha Watson. Mr. Winfield did not advise the Chancery

Judge that the day before (November 18, 2013) he had, in fact, communicated with his

client and had delivered to her a check payable to "Feletha Watson" personally rather

than the Estate. On same day his trust account shows he also wrote a check to himself

for $2,000.00 "For: Aubrey Watson". He also opened a trust account that did not comply

with Rule 1.15, MRPC "IOLTA trust account".

Clearly, there is a need to deter similar misconduct. 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. Public confidence in the legal system is

greatly impacted by lawyers who act contrary to the interests of their client and the Court

itself. Here Mr. Winfield represented an Estate, which included the lawful heirs of Aubrey

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 10


Watson, deceased. While he may have somehow erroneously believed Feletha Watson

and her brother were heirs of Aubrey Watson, as grandchildren , he did little, if anything,

to verify such. Worse he received the settlement funds on behalf of the Estate, and

immediately disbursed a portion to himself as a ''fee" without any approval of the Chancery

Court or the Estate. According to his testimony, he began to have a dispute with Feletha

Watson , because he couldn 't get her to understand she could not just "spend the money".

Yet when he decided to withdraw, he a wrote check directly to Feletha Watson personally

which enabled her to do exactly that "spend the money" which didn't belong to her. He

also wrote another check in the _amount $2,000.00 to himself. On the same day he wrote

the $2,000.00 check to himself, he requested leave to withdraw citing his inability to

communicate with "Feletha Watson ". He failed to inform the Court he had received

$50,000.00 on behalf of the Estate, he had dispersed funds to himself without Court

approval on two occasions (a total of $7,000.00) , and had, in fact, been in communication

with "Feletha Watson " the very day before he appeared before the Chancery Court asking

to withdraw because he could not "communicate" with his client. Mr. Winfield clearly failed

to advise the Chancery Court of information critical to the Court's ability to make an

informed decision in a case and to protect the innocent and true "heirs at law". Likewise,

public confidence in the legal system is eroded when lawyers ignore routine rules of court

designed to protect the public from lawyers who distribute estate funds without court

approval. In this case, Mr. Winfield's misconduct failed to protect the heirs of the estate.

Additionally, he failed to protect the court and legal system.

Mr. Winfield's misconduct caused actual injury to the Estate. The true heirs of the

estate have been without the benefit of funds Mr. Winfield improperly and unlawfully

distributed to himself and Feletha Watson for a period of over three years. Despite an

Order requiring him to repay $40,000.00 lost to the Estate into the registry of the Court,

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 11


Mr. Winfield made no effort to do so until the week before and day before the tribunal trial.

Not even a single minor ($50 a month even) payment or attempt to comply with the

Chancery Court order was made by Winfield until he was faced with the tribunal trial.

The Supreme Court has traditionally either disbarred or suspended lawyers for a

period of three years when they convert client funds. Even if the lawyer had no intention

to permanently convert the funds, he or she violates Rule 1.15, M RCP. See Mcintyre v.

Miss. Bar, 38 So.3d 617, 622 (Miss. 2010). In that case, Mr. Mcintyre contended that no

client ever lost a dime from his trust account from which he routinely took funds for his

own use and paid the account back later. The Supreme Court stated in Mcintyre that

"[r]egardless of whether Mcintyre eventually replaced the money, he violated the Rules

of Professional Conduct at the time he initially misused money from the account -- no

matter how briefly he kept it. This Court has said, "Restitution by an attorney of funds

previously misappropriated does not mitigate the offense." Cotton v. Miss. Bar, 809 So.

2d 582, 587 (Miss. 2000) (quoting Clark v. Miss. State Bar Ass'n, 471 So. 2d 352, 357

(Miss. 1985)). Mr. Winfield's conduct here is more egregious than in Mcintyre and his

response to the Chancery Court adjudging him in "contempt" and ordering him to pay

$40,000.00 to the Estate, was abysmal to say the least.

Here, Mr. Winfield converted $7,000 of estate funds for his own use and assisted

his client in converting another $43,000.00. Mr. Winfield did not reimburse the estate for

almost three years after being ordered to do so by Judge Ward (literally the week and day

before the disciplinary trial). The reimbursement has no mitigating effect for purposes of

imposing discipline for conversion, as there was no attempt to even partially comply with

a Court Order for almost three years and then only when facing a tribunal trial.

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 12


As to trust account violations, the Supreme Court has said "[t]here can be no more

damaging evidence, however, as to a lawyer's fitness to practice law than mishandling a

trust account." Reid v. Miss. Bar, 586 So. 2d 786, 788 (Miss. 1991 ). Furthermore, "[t]here

may be worse sins, but the ultimate wrong of a lawyer to his profession is to divert clients'

and third parties' funds entrusted to him to an unauthorized use." Id. This Court has said

that an attorney who misuses his client's money "exhibits a character trait totally at odds

with the purposes, ideals and objectives of our profession." Id. Mr. Winfield had no

authority to accept the settlement funds and deposit them into his "trust" account in the

first place. There was no court order authorizing such. By improperly depositing the

funds into his ''trust" account, it permitted Mr. Winfield to then use his trust account to take

funds ($7,000.00 and $43,000.00) from the Estate without Court approval and ultimately

inflict loss on the heirs. Attorneys have been disbarred or have received long suspensions

numerous times for commingling and misappropriation of client funds. See Miss. Bar v.

Sweeney, 849 So. 2d 884 (Miss. 2003) (three-year suspension for one instance of

misappropriating the funds of an estate); Miss. Bar v. Coleman, 849 So. 2d 867 (Miss.

2002) (three-year suspension for one instance of commingling, misappropriation, and

conversion of client funds); Cotton v. Miss. Bar, 809 So. 2d 582 (Miss. 2000) (attorney

disbarred for misappropriating funds, failing to pay client's medical bills with said funds,

resulting in client being sued); Haimes v. Miss. Bar, 601 So. 2d 851 (Miss. 1992) (attorney

disbarred for one instance of mishandling and misappropriating guardianship funds); Reid

v. Miss. Bar, 586 So. 2d 786, 788 (Miss. 1991) (attorney disbarred for converting funds

for "unauthorized and unlawful use"); Miss. State Bar v. Odom, 566 So. 2d 712 (three-

year suspension for misappropriating funds belonging to the executrix of an estate); Foote

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 13


v. Miss. State Bar Ass'n, 517 So. 2d 561 (Miss. 1987) (attorney with no previous

disciplinary record disbarred for misappropriation of client funds , although restitution was

made and the attorney cooperated with the proceedings); and Clark v. Miss. State Bar

Ass'n, 471 So. 2d 352 (Miss. 1985) (attorney disbarred after misappropriating the funds

of a conservatorship and misrepresenting his actions to his client and the trial court).

There are also aggravating factors to be considered. Mr. Winfield had 13 years of

experience as a lawyer at the time of his misconduct. His testimony as to how he

determined who the heirs of Aubrey Watson were is incomprehensible. He knew that

Feletha and her brother were the maternal grandchildren of Aubrey Watson . He did not

even asked if their mother was still alive which she was. Of course, such would have

eliminated "his" clients as heirs provided there was no Will. He received funds on behalf

of the Estate without a Court order authorizing such. He deposited the Estate funds into

his trust account, which then permitted him to control the disbursement of the Estate

funds. He immediately paid himself $5,000.00 without Court approval. He testified he

couldn't get his client, Feletha Watson, to understand "she could not just spend the

money", yet he dispersed $1,000.00 cash to her (according to his testimony) and issued

a check payable to her personally for $43,000.00 which enabled her to do exactly that

"just spend the money". The day after he issued a check payable to her personally and

delivered it to her, he appeared before the Chancery Court advising he desired to

withdraw from representing the Estate because he could not "communicate" with his

client, Feletha Watson. He did not tell the Court what had occurred just the day before

and that he had received a dispersed over $48,000.00 ($5,000.00 and $43,000.00) to

himself and Ms Watson. He also dispersed another $2,000.00 to himself on the very

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 14


same day, but it is unknown if such was done before or after he appeared before the

Chancery Judge. He violated multiple rules of professional conduct. Mr. Winfield has

demonstrated ambivalence to the Chancery Court's Order requiring him to repay the lost

funds of $40,000.00 into the Estate, not even attempt to make a single payment until

faced with the hearing before this tribunal. Further, he has shown great indifference to

these bar proceedings by not answering discovery, not responding to Request for

Admissions, not producing documents requested by the Bar and not making any attempt

at repaying the purloined funds until facee with this tribunal trial.

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.

As for Mr. Winfield's violation of Rule 3.3(d), a Complaint Tribunal suspended a

lawyer for a period of one year for his failure to advise the Court of material facts in a

garnishment proceeding. Mississippi Bar v. Jack Parsons, Cause 2014-B-191. In that

case, Mr. Parsons was suspended for his failure to inform the Circuit Court that the

garnishment he was seeking to collect in full was based on a judgment obtained in a

Chancery proceeding wherein the judgment provided for monthly payments without

interest. Mr. Parsons also failed to inform the Circuit Court the judgment debtor was

current on his payments. Mr. Parsons appealed the one year suspension imposed by the

Complaint Tribunal and the Bar cross-appealed. Mr. Parsons subsequently filed a notice

of irrevocable resignation which stayed the proceedings by rule. The Bar's motion to have

the Supreme Court accept Mr. Parsons' resignation is currently pending before the

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

Bar v \XTinfield Opinion and Final Judgment 15


Unlike Parsons, Mr. Winfield violated Rule 1.15, MRPC, in addition to Rule 3.3,

MRPC. Here, Mr. Winfield's failure to candidly advise the Chancery Court of material

facts of the case is what allowed Mr. Winfield and his client to convert estate assets from

the estate for his personal benefit as well as the personal benefit of Feletha Watson.

Therefore, the sanction in this case should exceed that of Mr. Parsons' one year

suspension.

American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Discipline state that

disbarment is appropriate when a lawyer's course of conduct demonstrates he lacks an

understanding of the most fundamental legal doctrines or procedures and it causes injury

or potential injury to the client. ABA Standard 4.51. ABA Standard 6.11 states that

disbarment is appropriate when a lawyer intends to deceive a tribunal by improperly

withholding information and causes significant or potentially significant adverse effect on

a legal proceeding. First, Mr. Winfield paid himself $5,000.00 on the same day he

deposited the settlement funds in his account again without Court approval. Such

demonstrates Mr. Winfield was placing his interests before the Estate and its heirs.

Additionally Mr. Winfield's testimony that he was having a problem making his client

understand that she could not just spend the money, therefore, because of his

communication problems, he decided to withdraw from representing the Estate is difficult

to reconcile with his actions. Knowing that he was having a problem making his client

understand that she could not just spend the money, on November 18, 2013 he still wrote

a check payable to "Feletha Watson" for $43,000.00 personally instead of "The Estate of

Aubrey Watson". Doing so allowed "Feletha Watson" to "just spend the money" and

convert the Estate assets to her own use. The very next day after writing a $43,000.00

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 16


check payable to "Feletha Watson" personally rather than the Estate, Mr. Winfield

appeared before the Chancery Judge and obtained an order allowing him to withdraw.

Mr. Winfield and the Chancellor testified that the stated reason for withdrawing was his

inability to communicate with his client, Feletha Watson. Mr. Winfield did not advise the

Chancery Judge that the day before (November 18, 2013) he had, in fact, communicated

with his client and had delivered to her a check payable to "Feletha Watson" personally

rather than the Estate in the amount of $43,000.00. On same day his trust account shows

he also wrote a check to himself for $2,000.00 "For: Aubrey Watson". Neither Rule 1.15

nor Rule 3.3(d) include a provision for intent. Rule 1.15 simply states that a lawyer must

keep his funds separate from funds belonging to the client. Rule 3.3(d) states that in an

ex parte proceeding, the lawyer shall inform the tribunal of all material facts known to the

lawyer regardless of whether those facts are adverse.

After considering the testimony of the witnesses, including the learned Chancellor

and Mr. Winfield, the evidence presented, both during and subsequent to the tribunal trial,

the Tribunal finds that Michael E. Winfield violated the Mississippi Rules of Professional

Conduct as set forth above and as he admits. Discipline is now appropriate. Having

considered the Uebling factors and Catlege, the aggravating and mitigating factors, a

majority of the Complaint Tribunal finds that Mr. Winfield should be disbarred from the

practice of law for a minimum period of three (3) years from the date that the Opinion and

Final Judgment is entered according to the Rules of Discipline for the Mississippi State

Bar; prior to applying for readmission Mr. Winfield should be required to take and pass

the entire Mississippi Bar examination including the ethics portion as a precondition to his

being eligible for readmission. Additionally, his readmission should be further conditioned

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 17


upon his paying all costs incurred by the Bar to investigate the underlying bar complaint

and to prosecute this Formal Complaint.

Within thirty (30) days, of the entry of the Opinion and Final Judgment Mr. Winfield

should notify in writing all of his clients with active matters pending that he has been

disbarred from the practice of law for a period of three (3) years effective (30) days after

the date the Opinion and Final Judgment is entered and advise each of them that he is

unable to act as an attorney on their behalf during said disbarment. He shall further return

all files to such clients or the counsel for such clients upon request. Mr. Winfield shall

also notify in writing all parties opposite as well as courts and agencies in which he has

active cases that he has been disbarred effective (30) days after the date the Opinion and

Final Judgment is entered. Mr. Winfield shall file a certificate with the Clerk of the

Supreme Court that he has complied with these provisions of the Opinion and Final

Judgment within thirty days of the date of entry of the Opinion and Final Judgment.

Mr. Winfield must apply for readmission pursuant to the Rules of Discipline for the

Mississippi State Bar. In order for Mr. Winfield to be eligible for readmission he must have

complied with all terms of this Opinion and Final Judgment.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court shall forward copies of the Opinion and Final

Judgment to each member of the Complaint Tribunal ; to counsel for all parties; to the

Executive Director of the Mississippi Bar; to all Circuit, Chancery, and County Court

judges in Hinds County, Mississippi and Warren County, Mississippi; to the Clerks of the

United States District Courts for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi; to the

Clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; to the Clerk of the United

States Supreme Court.

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 18


,

Each member of the Tribunal has demonstrated his/her approval of or disapproval

of these Opinion and Final Judgment by affixing his/her signature to the herein below.

SO ORDERED this the~ day o~ 2017.


~
D

Ti C. Holleman, Esquire
Tr-ibunal--Member

While I agree that discipline is warranted I disagree with the other members of

the Tribunal that disbarment is warranted, therefore I vote for a 1 year suspension

together with the other condition imposed by th 1(y of the

Bar v Winfield Opinion and Final Judgment 19