Legal Newsline

Friday, April 3, 2020

Fee dispute involving Mississippi lawyers transferred

State Court

By Karen Kidd | Feb 26, 2020

Carroll Gartin Justice Building | Wikimedia Commons - Tony Webster

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) –  A lawsuit against two Mississippi attorneys is on its way back to a court in Madison County - where all parties agreed it should have remained - following a recent Mississippi Supreme Court decision.

In its six-page decision issued Feb. 13, a Mississippi Supreme Court three-judge panel reversed a lower court's transfer of claims against Jackson attorneys Michelle Biegel and Bettie Ruth Johnson to a chancery court and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Most claims in the fee dispute case were properly transferred but all parties in the interlocutory appeal agreed it had been a mistake to transfer claims against appellants Biegel and Johnson.

"Since Biegel and Johnson were not parties to the chancery-court action, there was no exclusion or abatement of the circuit-court suit against them," the decision said. "The circuit court thus erred by transferring the suit against Biegel and Johnson to the chancery court."

Supreme Court Justice David M. Ishee wrote the decision in which Justice Leslie D. King and Justice Robert P. Chamberlin concurred.

Part of the underlying estate matter that led to the fee dispute in Biegel and Johnson's appeal was featured in the August 2016 blog "Jackson Jambalaya" in which attorneys Barry Wade Gilmer and Chuck McRae are referred to as "two junkyard dogs."

In the resulting fee dispute, which also involves attorney Seth Little, McRae filed suit against Gilmer in Hinds County Chancery Court, claiming unjust enrichment.

McRae also sued Gilmer in federal court, alleging RICO and other violations, but that case had no bearing in the appeal before the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Gilmer filed his own lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court against McRae's attorneys, Biegel and Johnson.

After Biegel and Johnson filed for special entry of appearance and a motion to dismiss the complaint against them, McRae asked that claims against him be transferred to Hinds Chancery Court. McRae's motion to transfer did not refer to claims against Biegel and Johnson.

Nonetheless, Madison County Circuit Court Judge Christopher A. Collins ordered the entire lawsuit, including claims against Biegel and Johnson, be transferred to Hinds County Chancery Court and then denied Biegel and Johnson's motion to reconsider.

In their appeal, Biegel and Johnson also asked the Supreme Court to dismiss claims against them for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted but they failed to raise that issue in their principal appellate brief.

"This issue is procedurally barred," the decision said.

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Mississippi Supreme Court