Mississippi judge could face fine, reprimand for practicing law after taking judicial bench

Published 8:56 pm Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Mississippi judge could face a fine and a reprimand for violating state laws on judicial conduct for continuing to represent clients from his private practice past a state deadline.

The Sun Herald reported the Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a recommendation from the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance to fine Jackson County Court Judge Mark Watts $2,500 and order him to face a public reprimand before a higher court judge at the beginning of the next court term in October.

Watts was accused of representing clients from his private practice after a six-month period.. State law says county court judges shall not practice law in any courts in the county or otherwise, other than bringing to a conclusion cases from private practice within six months of taking office.

Watts, the ruling said, did not dispute the claims and agreed to the fine and reprimand. However, Watts said in previous testimony that he had not accepted additional payments from the clients and did not realize he was violating the standard of professional conduct as a judge.

In its finding, the commission said it had found no evidence to suggest Watts had intentionally acted in bad faith. Watts admitted knowing about the six-month expiration period but didn’t think what he was doing violated the judicial mandates, the report said.

The commission said in one case where he went to court on behalf of a client that his violations resulted from “acts of charity motivated by a desire to help…. clients avoid hiring new counsel and paying legal fees they could not afford.”

“I didn’t — I didn’t try to keep practicing law,” Watts testified. “That was not my intention. That is not what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to make money on the side. I didn’t take any new clients. I didn’t charge. I didn’t even get any money for any of the these cases other than what they paid me — maybe way before — to handle something.”