January 2012 Archives

January 30, 2012

Mississippi Brain Injury Accident Victims Need Long Term Recovery Facility

tbi.jpgAt Coxwell & Associates, we represent people who have suffered serious injuries from accidents. However, we are limited as to what we can do for our clients (and not just by tort reform). Our legal system allows attorneys to recover money for their client's damages which includes long term medical expenses. And while it is fulfilling to help them obtain financial resources so that they can maintain their medical treatment, we know that many of our clients will never fully recover.

Sunday's Clarion Ledger had an article concerning brain injury victims in Mississippi that I found both interesting and sad. According to the article, "brain-injury survivors in Mississippi.....lack..long-term care facilities, such as Arkansas' Timber Ridge, or the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.." It is simply amazing in this day and age that Mississippi does not have a long term facility to assist our citizens who have suffered a brain injury.

The brain is a fascinating organ and a healthy brain is vital to a long and fulfilling life. Do you know why you can't tickle yourself? Because your brain distinguished between unexpected external touch and your own touch. When we blink, do you know why the "world doesn't go dark"? It's because our brain keeps the world luminated for us (we blink 20,000 times a day). Learn more more interesting brain facts here.

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January 27, 2012

CEO Compensation Packages aptly named "Golden Parachutes"

ceo-golden-parachute-e1300055027530.jpgA parachute is defined as "a device for slowing the descent of a person or object through the air that consists of a fabric canopy beneath which the person or object is suspended." If you add the word "golden" in front of "parachute" the definition changes to "a generous severance agreement for a corporate executive in the event of a sudden dismissal (as because of a merger)." A recent GMI Ratings Report listed 21 recent golden parachutes for various CEO's. I found the payments ludicrous in light of the economic crunch this country is currently experiencing. Here is a list with the years the person acted as CEO:

General Electric John F. Welch Jr. 1981-2001 $417,361,902

Exxon Mobil Corp. Lee R. Raymond 1993-2005 $320,599,861

UnitedHealth Group William D. McGuire 1991-2006 $285,996,009

AT&T Edward E. Whitacre Jr. 1990-2007 $230,048,463

Home Depot Inc. Robert L. Nardelli 2000-2007 $223,290,123

North Fork Bank John A. Kanas 1977-2006 $214,300,000

Merck & Co., Inc./Schering-Plough Fred Hassan 2003-2009 $189,352,324

IBM Louis V. Gerstner Jr. 1993-2002 $189,005,929

Pfizer Inc. Hank A. McKinnell Jr. 2001-2006 $188,329,553

CVS Caremark Corp. Thomas M. Ryan 1998-2011 $185,415,435

Gillette Co. James M. Kilts 2001-2005 $164,532,192

Target Corp. Robert J. Ulrich 1994-2008 $164,162,612

Merrill Lynch & Co. E. Stanley O'Neal 2002-2007 $161,500,000

U.S. Bancorp Jerry A. Grundhofer 2001-2006 $159,064,090

Omnicare, Inc. Joel F. Gemunder 2001-2010 $146,001,476

Wachovia/South Trust Wallace D. Malone Jr. 1981-2004 $125,292,818

United Technologies Corp. George A. L. David 1994-2008 $122,631,309

eBay Inc. Margaret C. Whitman 1998-2008 $120,427,360

WellPoint Health Leonard Schaeffer 1992-2004 $119,041,000

XTO Energy Inc. Bob R. Simpson 1986-2008 $103,485,972

Viacom Thomas E. Freston 2006 $100,839,772

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January 27, 2012

Jackson Road Hazards: Watch Out for the Potholes

MS Half.jpg

In September of last year I had the bright idea to start training for the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon in January. A full marathon consists of 26.2 miles, but a half marathon is only 13.1 miles. I saw a bumper sticker once that sums up the difference between the two perfectly: "13.1....because I'm only half crazy." So after 4 months of running around Jackson and the Trace, race day was upon me.

The race stretched throughout the Jackson area zigzagging through parts of State Street, Jefferson Street, Pearl Street, and Belhaven just to name a few. Now, as a Jackson resident, I was aware of our less than stellar streets. Most of the time it feels like you're driving on road that would put an old wooden roller coaster- one that throws you from side to side- to shame. Apparently race organizers had the same idea too. Race organizers started making precautions. Prior to race day, I had seen the news reports of the city filling up some areas of the race route with dirt to keep runners from tripping over potholes. They put up small barricades here and there too as extra precaution.

Well, try as they might, come race day, when 2, 572 individuals are running through the streets, those dirt filled holes and barricades weren't much use. For us clumsy folk, added potholes and bumps in the road didn't help our less than stellar race times. Certain sections of the road were closed off to traffic but at other times, cars were zooming past you. Over all, the race was a great experience and something I'd do again (remember: I'm only half crazy).

But it got me thinking. I was running along a course that had been fixed up and I still found trouble spots. What about the Jackson residents that ride their bikes or walk to work or school? They have to endure these roads and sidewalks day in and day out. It's not uncommon for a bike tire to hit a bump or a hole in the road and send you crashing to the ground. It's also not uncommon for a walker or a jogger to trip on uneven pavement in the sidewalk. As far as the zooming cars are concerned, as a cyclist in Mississippi, you are guaranteed at least three feet of space between you and the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle must reduce his speed- not zoom past you. Granted, when you are a bike it might feel like everyone is "zooming" past you. Unless you are Lance Armstrong.

Back to the road hazards. Jackson, just like other cities, has an obligation to maintain its roads and sidewalks for safe use. If the city, or governmental agency in charge of the road, fails to maintain a safe roadway, then there could possibly be an action for negligence. Of course, you would have to prove the city had notice of the road hazard and had reasonable time to fix it. By covering potholes in the street, Jackson has taken a step in fixing our roadway problems. But for a state that implemented the "Let's Go Walkin' Mississippi" program, more permanent measures should be taken. Jackson residents should not have to worry about potholes or uneven sidewalks during their commutes or exercise routines.

January 27, 2012

Targeting New Users: Google+

Children as young as 13 will be allowed to be a member of Google+, a social networking service similar to Facebook, according to executives at Google. After 6 months of "testing" their privacy settings, Google made the decision to allow teenagers to become members.

Talking heads appeared immediately on every news outlet to debate the issue of whether children should have access to social media. At first glance, the obvious questions are raised:
"Why does a 13 year-old need their own webpage to interact with their friends?"
"Doesn't this make children and their privacy vulnerable?"
And the most popular question thus far: "Why expose children to the internet to make them targets for online predators?"

While I have always been a fan of actually talking to my friends and family when I want to talk to them rather than using a website to pretend to know what is going on with their lives, I understand the need for social media. People want information, and they want it fast...no matter if that information is news, sports, celebrity gossip, or even information about their friends and family. Facebook and Google+ provide the effortless access to information we all crave. Egos need to be fed, and when there's an entire website devoted to an individual - which is exactly why Facebook and social media have become so popular - it becomes increasingly difficult to not get drawn into the positive aspects of Facebook and Google+.

The information age is upon us, and teenagers are no different than anyone else when it comes to the internet. People of all ages have been known to write (not "say" because that would require actually talking) information on the internet they have later regretted. Responsible adults have sent messages they have wanted to retract.

Parents have seemed to ignore the problems of self-centered behavior and lack of decision-making skills and instead have focused their anger towards Google+. Allowing children to become members has not made Google popular amongst parents. Those who aren't angry at Google+ are now scared of "internet predators" and are now convinced their children are susceptible to the "dangers of the internet."

Barry Glassner, President of Lewis & Clark College and former professor of sociology at the University of Southern California wrote a book entitled: "The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things." This examination of society's need to be terrified forces readers to think about their concerns and determine if they are realistic. Statistical data is provided to show exactly why particular activities are not dangerous and why Americans are influenced by television programming in developing their fears. (Thank you, "To Catch a Predator" and 24-hour news networks.) In short, Glassner provides compelling arguments on why parents should not worry themselves over "internet predators" but instead focus on real dangers that exist for the average child.

Text messaging while driving, gossiping, developing judgmental attitudes, and a lack of concern for others are much more "real concerns" for teenagers everywhere - not online predators. If you make the decision to allow your children to use social media, try to spend time talking about the former and spend less time worrying about the latter. The evidence is overwhelming.

January 20, 2012

A Standoff, A Manhunt, and Bert Case

In one of the most bizarre stories this year, a Jackson-area anchor helped Madison County law enforcement apprehend a guy they simply could not find...

Yesterday evening Rodney Wayne Hill allegedly pulled a gun on his neighbor who then called law enforcement officers to the scene. After repeated attempts to speak to Rodney Hill failed, Mr. Hill barricaded himself in his own home. Late last night, local media reported Hill had numerous weapons and possible explosives in his home.

So the police sat and waited.

Law enforcement waited all night long. Early this morning police went in the house and searched high and low and even in between walls to find Hill. No one could find him.

Until Bert Case showed up.

Bert Case, anchor of WLBT and 48-year news reporter veteran, simply watched Hill walk along the tree line asking for help. Bert was already in the middle of the interview when Madison Sheriff's Department Officers jumped out of their truck and detained Hill, who kept asking for help.
No one with the Madison County Sheriff's Department acted as if they knew Hill was sleeping in the woods all night.

While watching the video from WLBT's website is entertaining, the real question is: What will happen next? Will Madison County prosecute Mr. Hill? Or will Madison County request a mental evaluation of Mr. Hill? Regardless of what happens next, Bert Case has once again become the story, instead of simply reporting the story.

January 19, 2012

The American Dream has become a Nightmare.

american dream.jpg Everyone, from the wealthy down to the hourly worker, wants to own a home. It's the American Dream right?
Until around 15 years ago, if you didn't have money for a down payment and pretty good credit, it was almost impossible to get a mortgage. Then things started changing. Banks started approving mortgages for more and more people. Suddenly everyone could have a home of their own.
But the mortgage companies weren't being kind, they were secretly getting ruthless. They started peddline mortgages with adjustable rates, interest-only payments, and multiple-payment options. Why did they do it? Simple - to make more money.
Maybe you got one of those mortgages. There's nothing wrong with most of them. In fact, they helped millions of people finally step out from under the shadow of a landlord and get a place of their own.
The problem is that no one explained to you exactly what you were getting and what the implications of these loans really were. The loan officers and morgage brokers painted a very rosy picture telling borrowers that they could just refinance in a couple of years. Nobody told you the full story...About how refinancing depended on your home's value going up. About how your adjustable rate loan could go up every single year if you couldn't refinance. About how your principal balance would never go down and your payments could double or even triple.
Didn't the banks know people would fall behind on their mortgages? Didn't they see this coming a mile away?
Absolutely! So why did they push these loans on people? Simple. It was all about money. You see, mortgage banks knew that they could package and sell these mortgages to investors who were hungry for high-risk, big-money deals. And were not talking just about investors in the United States. Much of this investment came from hedge funds filled with money from China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other far-flung parts of the world. What's incredible is that one mortgage might be divided up 30 or 40 times; little pieces held by 30 or 40 investors. This is greed in its most basic form.
If you've been watching the news at all the last couple of years, this shouldn't all be new information. So why am I going on about this? To let you know that if you are one of the millions of Americans facing foreclosure (more than likely on property that is no longer worth what it was) or are falling behind on payments not knowing how much longer it will be before the lender forecloses - that there are real ways to fight back and hold on tightly to that house you scrimped and saved for. To let you know that if you own a home in Mississippi and are ready to take control and fight for your home - pick up the phone and call me to discuss a plan of attack.

January 18, 2012

Mississippi Trusty Program and Pardons: Why is America fascinated?


In a recent interview with CNN, Tiffany Ellis Brewer appeared to say what the media has been thinking for the past twelve weeks, "It takes 12 people to put somebody in prison and one man (the governor) gets to release him because he gave him a good car wash or served dinner right." Bear in mind, Ms. Brewer was referring to former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's decision to pardon five individuals who served on his trusty program at the Governor's mansion. By the end of his term as Governor, Barbour granted pardons to over 200 individuals.

But with the recent media swarm around Barbour's last minute pardons, the pardon process in Mississippi has also been scrutinized. As the current Mississippi Constitution reads, the Governor is allowed to grant pardons in all criminal and penal cases- except those involving treason and impeachment. The Mississippi Constitution forbids the Governor from issuing pardons prior to an individual's conviction. Should the Governor grant a convicted felon a pardon, then written notice and reasoning behind the pardon must be published in the county where the crime occurred thirty (30) days prior to the felon's release. In the case of criminal convictions, victims of the crime have the right to be notified and submit a statement to be considered during the pardon process. Once the pardon is granted then two copies of the pardon must be filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State. One copy remains at the Secretary of State and the other is sent to the Circuit Clerk where the pardoned individual was convicted.

As Ms. Brewer's quote suggests, it appears American media outlets have latched on to the trusty program and the fact five individuals were able to benefit from their time spent working near the Governor. After all, it garnered those pardons and national attention. With media outlets and talking heads raising eyebrows at the program, Mississippi legislators have joined in the fray as well. As a result, it appears this trustee program may be on its way out in Mississippi.

Representative David Baria of Bay St. Louis is introducing bills in the House in order to do just that. Part of Baria's overhaul prohibits convicted murderers from serving as trustees. However, the trustee program already denies access to individuals convicted of sex crimes, who have been sentenced to a life term, those who have found guilty of possession or trafficking certain drugs, and apparently those convicted of homicide or attempted homicide. Baria also hopes to overhaul the pardon system in Mississippi with his proposed legislation. Another bill asks the State to provide not only notice but also hearings to the public when an individual is up for a pardon. More than that, Baria also suggests amending the Mississippi Constitution to prohibit the Governor from issuing pardons during the final ninety days he or she serves in office.

Time will tell if these proposed legislations will pass in Mississippi. But it appears the scrutiny given to Mississippi's pardon system and former Governor Barbour's 200+ pardons will continue to be a topic of national debate for a little while longer.

January 16, 2012

Governor Barbour's Pardons:Right or Wrong?

mcard.jpgThis week in Mississippi ex-Governor Haley Barbour pardoned over 200 people. A substantial number were convicted of murder, DUI manslaughter, manslaughter, armed robbery, and some other violent offenses. Many were also convicted of non-violent drug offenders and property crimes. These pardons made national news and touched off a fire-storm of protest across Mississippi. The families of the victims were outraged, hurt, and dismayed by Governor Barbour's actions. I listened to people on the T.V. and radio who said they had been staunch Barbour supporters but after the pardons would not support him for dog catcher. Attorney General Jim Hood filed for a Temporary Injunction and it was granted. According to Attorney General Hood many of the pardons were granted without strict compliance with the Mississippi Constitution. The Mississippi Constitution grants the Governor the power and grant reprieves. The section is quoted below in full:

Article 5, Section 124. Reprieves and pardons. In all criminal and penal cases, excepting those of treason and impeachment, the governor shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons, to remit fines, and in cases of forfeiture, to stay the collection until the end of the next session of the legislature, and by and with the consent of the senate to remit forfeitures. In cases of treason he shall have power to grant reprieves, and by and with consent of the senate, but may respite the sentence until the end of the next session of the legislature; but no pardon shall be granted before conviction; and in cases of felony, after conviction no pardon shall be granted until the applicant therefor shall have published for thirty days, in some newspaper in the county where the crime was committed, and in case there be no newspaper published in said county, then in an adjoining county, his petition for pardon, setting forth therein the reasons why such pardon should be granted. SOURCES: 1832 art V § 10; 1869 art V § 10.

The gist of Attorney General Hood's complaint is that some of the people who received pardons did not publish in the newspaper thirty (30) days before the pardons were granted. If you look at the highlighted section above you can see the Mississippi Constitution uses the word "shall" be published. This was the basis of the Temporary Restraining Order granted by Judge Green blocking the release of some inmates from prison apparently because the Attorney General could not find proof they had published in the paper. A final hearing has been set and it should be an interesting court hearing.
I would also like to direct attention to the language about pardons. One should note the Mississippi Constitution says pardons must be published. It does not say reprieves shall be published. In fact it does not place any requirement on a Governor's power to reprieve. So I would suggest the reductions of sentences and commutations that Governor Barbour granted are safe from legal attack.

Let's leave the legal aspects of the pardons and discuss the moral aspects. In order to empathize with the families who lost loved ones to a violent crime it is necessary to "crawl inside their skin" and feel what they feel. I suspect anyone of us who lost a loved one to a violent crime would want the perpetrator in jail for as long as possible. Am I right or wrong? When I put myself in the "skin of the other person" I can feel the loss, anger, and outrage. But do these natural human feelings fun counter to the tradition notions of our legal system which is founded in part on Christian principle of forgiveness and redemption?
I think it is hard to deny that our society is based on principles of forgiveness, redemption, and pardon for those who admit their wrong and apologize. Isn't the Bible based on forgiveness, redemption, and doing good deeds? Of course there must be some form of punishment but for how long? Some people probably feel that anyone convicted of murder, manslaughter, or any other violent crime should be in prison forever, regardless of how they act in prison or what redeeming things they do. Does this feeling run counter to the teachings of the Bible? Others take a different view and say that people should have the opportunity to redeem themselves and re-enter society. I suppose at the end of the day that is a policy decision.

I have heard it said that the majority of the people Governor Barbour pardoned were already out of prison. I did not check on this fact. Does that make a difference? For years I have argued the criminal laws in this country are too harsh and sentences too long. America incarcerates more people per year than any other western society. Up until the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act people sentenced for first time, small possession of cocaine base could routinely get 14-20 years in prison without any form of parole. Since the 1980's the laws in the Federal and State System kept getting more severe each year until I thought there would be no end to the punishment. Now I have seen a change and interestingly it does not seem to be a concept of humanity or enlighten in human understanding that has brought about this change but rather the financial cost of incarcerating so many people for such a long time. Wall Street brought about the collapse of the economy and some of the more Draconian aspects of the criminal justice system.

The bottom line is this: Should anyone convicted of a violent crime, like a murder be pardoned? If so when? If not, then do we believe in redemption and rehabilitation? These are the questions that have to be answered as a matter of public policy. Personally I think allowing people who have committed a non-violent offense to get a pardon and completely clear their records is in most cases a good thing. The application of this rule to violent crimes is more difficult to apply, but still a matter of policy. If the people of Mississippi want the Governor to retain a pardon power, I believe they want the pardon process to be completely open, transparent, and with adequate notice for public input. That is my two cents worth.

January 11, 2012

Pardon me Governor? Mississippi AG Hood seeks Injunction

Hood.jpgIn the wake of an unprecedented wave of pardons and reprieves in Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood has asked Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green to to block the pardons. . Attorney General Hood has also asked Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps not to allow any of the pardoned prisoners out of jail.

This should get good.

January 11, 2012

What should you do in Mississippi if the police have a warrant for your arrest?

51VgNlnntcL._SL500_AA300_.jpg I cannot tell you how many times I have received a call and the voice at the other end says "hey, I have a warrant for my arrest. What should I do?" I always tell my brother to calm down and take his meds. (I kid, my brother is in his 50's and has never had so much as a traffic ticket). The caller did the first thing you should always do when you are in trouble: speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney.

In this situation, I always advise the client that he will need to turn himself into the police immediately. However, depending on the case, we will attempt to call and set a bail for our client so their time in jail will be minimal. I will also call and speak with the police and advise them that our client is going to surrender himself and request that he not be interviewed. (It's not a bad idea to put this in writing either).

Finally, and most importantly, I drill it into my client's head to never speak with the police about his case. You know on those t.v. crime shows when they tell criminals "anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law"? Well, they are serious about that! When you are arrested don't say anything!

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