Editor’s note: A local attorney who is not involved in any SRHS litigation has written to share his/her opinion after viewing the video and reading the motion filed by Barton and Denham.
I will use no falsehood nor delay any person’s cause for lucre or malice….
Miss. Code 73-3-35 (Oath of Miss. attorneys taken upon being admitted to practice)
I am an attorney, and tonight I am hanging my head with shame and disappointment. Mississippi’s judiciary, bar and people are presented with yet another display of apparent back-room dealing by lawyers, a judge and special master.
The video tells the story far better than my words can. A group of attorneys, a state court judge and his appointed special master all meet in the special master’s office. That special master, Britt Singletary, explains the meeting as “There was nothing secret about it, … It had nothing to do with any pending motions in state court. It was about the federal court case.” [per WLOX report]. If that is true Mr. Singletary, then please explain why an hour later ALL STATE CASES AGAINST SRHS BEFORE JUDGE HILBURN WERE STAYED, INCLUDING THOSE CASES FILED BY BARTON AND DENHAM???? If its is truly about the federal class action case, then explain why THE ATTORNEY FOR JACKSON COUNTY, A STATE COURT JUDGE, A STATE COURT SPECIAL MASTER AND THE PENSION PLAN TRUSTEE WERE ALL PRESENT WHEN NONE OF THEM ARE PARTIES TO THAT FEDERAL CASE???
I know from personal experience that a little bit of Harvey Barton and Earl Denham go a long way. They can be jerks who piss off a judge or lawyer in a New York minute with snide remarks and sometimes stretch their cases to the absurd. However in this instance, they appear to have hit a bulls-eye. I can think of no good reason or excuse to explain the circumstances of this meeting which directly impacted plaintiff-retirees whose lawyers were not invited to attend. Due process goes to the very heart of our legal system. Without it, individuals will always suffer the whims of the rich or powerful. If half of what Earl and Harvey allege in the motion is true, then these experienced attorneys and a judge have tried to crush the rights of SRHS retirees and employees in the name of money and expediency.
What needs to happen??? Obviously the Mississippi Supreme Court needs to take swift action to right this apparent wrong. At a bare minimum, a new judge is in order. US District Court Judge Guirola needs to put the brakes on what has been so far an inevitable slide toward a mandatory settlement of every retiree/employees claims against SRHS and its upper management/trustees. The recent downturn in the stock market demonstrates the settlement proposal puts the entire risk of future market fluctuations on the retirees. Finally, the Jackson County Board of Supervisors need to immediately reevaluate their agreement to contribute to this settlement, to ensure it is the interest of all citizens of Jackson County.
I believe a settlement is badly needed. Retirees/employees will get less than they deserve. That is true of all settlements. But if benefits are to be cut in the future, or greater risk placed upon retirees for market changes, then those actions and approval of a settlement have to be done in the most open manner possible. We are adults. We know life is not fair. We have all been disappointed by employers, friends, family, governments, etc. But if I am going to be screwed, I want to at least know why, how and when. So do the SRHS retirees/employees.
This struggle began over a lack of transparency in the operations and management of Singing River Health System. Despite all the litigation and media coverage, a select few are still bent on deciding the financial fate of thousands in back room, secret meetings. Let us pray they fail.
Note: “Lucre” means “money, especially when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonorable way.”