Jackson County

Mississippi Supreme Court wants to know why chancery judge stopped SRHS litigation

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Singing River Hospital Systems attorneys Brett Williams, left, and Kelly Sessoms arrive at the federal courthouse in Gulfport on Wednesday Jan. 20, 2015 for a hearing on the Singing River Hospital Systems pension plan settlement.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Singing River Hospital Systems attorneys Brett Williams, left, and Kelly Sessoms arrive at the federal courthouse in Gulfport on Wednesday Jan. 20, 2015 for a hearing on the Singing River Hospital Systems pension plan settlement. SUN HERALD

PASCAGOULA -- The state Supreme Court has ordered Chancery Court Breland Hilburn to explain why he stopped all litigation in the case of Singing River Health System versus its pensioners.

Hilburn stopped litigation in Chancery Court shortly after he met outside the courtroom on Jan. 12 with some players in the Chancery case, but not all of them. The ones who were left out of the meeting -- attorneys for about 200 retirees -- appealed for emergency relief from the high court, complaining that, among other things, Hilburn's action kept them from asking him to step down from the case.

Meanwhile, explanations and arguments rolled in from court officials who were at the Jan. 12 meeting with Hilburn. The high court gave them until the end of the day Tuesday to respond.

The state Supreme Court ordered responses from SRHS attorneys, Jackson County's attorney, the special master, Judge Hilburn, a hospital system trustee, the fiduciary agent over the pension and retiree attorneys Jim Reeves and Matthew Mestayer. Most had responded by 5 p.m.

Brett Williams and Kelly Sessoms, partners in the law firm of Dogan & Wilkinson and representing SRHS, offered a lengthy response strongly denying the allegations made by retiree attorneys Earl Denham and Harvey Barton in the motion for relief.

"There was no secret, ex parte, meeting with Judge Hilburn," they explained in a summary. "The meeting involved an update on the federal court class action. Denham and Barton do not represent any parties in federal court and have repeatedly refused to participate in any settlement discussions in the class action.

"There was no discussion of the merits of the Denham and Barton cases during this meeting," they said. Others responding echoed that to the high court.

Williams and Sessoms also said Denham and Barton failed to follow the Mississippi Bar's disciplinary process and instead "leapfrogged straight to the Mississippi Supreme Court in a publicly filed motion to seek a conviction in the court of public opinion," they said. "All this, without a single eyewitness to what happened in the alleged improper meeting.

"We ask the public and court to listen to those who were at the meeting."

The high court gave Hilburn until noon Wednesday to answer why he stopped proceedings in Chancery Court.

Hilburn filed an answer Tuesday, saying he wanted everyone to focus on the federal settlement and said any activity or cases in the state court "was a distraction."

He said even though Denham and Barton didn't participate, in the federal case, they were still obligated to support the effort.

Denham and Barton have sworn to fight the federal settlement because they say the poor finances of the hospital and the drain on the funds in the pension leave the retirees vulnerable and there are no clauses in the federal settlement that guarantee future payments to retirees.

Both attorneys have asked the high court for two days to respond to the responses.

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald

  Comments