"Lumumba's Close Call with Disbarment" by Politics Blog | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

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Lumumba's Close Call with Disbarment

"Look, Judge, if we've got to pay for justice around here, I will pay for justice. I've paid other judges to try to get justice, pay you, too, if that's what is necessary."

That statement, made by attorney Chokwe Lumumba to Leake County Circuit Judge Marcus D. Gordon on October 17, 2001 got Lumumba in trouble -- big trouble.

Gordon cited Lumumba for contempt, fined him $500 and ordered him to serve three days in the county jail. According to an Associated Press story written at the time, Lumumba was referring to the fine itself, meaning that he would happily pay the fine if it meant justice for his client at the time, Henry Payton.

A 2003 tribunal recommended a public reprimand for Lumumba but the bar sought a harsher punishment.

"Instead, the Mississippi Bar wanted Lumumba suspended from the practice of law for an unspecified period of time. The Mississippi Bar stated that the length of suspension would be left up to this Court to determine," records show.

The court ruled that in addition to the fines he'd been ordered to pay, a six-month suspension of Lumumba's law license would be appropriate. Lumumba appealed the decision to the Mississippi State Supreme court on the grounds that his speech was protected by the First Amendment. Both courts disagreed.

However, the appellate court found in August 2003: "Lumumba's behavior was done in the presence of the court and intended to embarrass or prevent orderly administration of justice. Further, it was both disrespectful to the judge and disruptive to court proceedings. We cannot fathom any situation that would warrant such behavior. This Court finds that the statements made toward the judge about how he can better get along with lawyers in the future, about the judge's "henchmen," about being proud to be thrown out of the courtroom, and about paying the judge for justice were made to embarrass the court or impede the administration of justice. This Court finds that the statements go far beyond zealous representation of one's client, and makes a mockery of the court and its proceedings."

In 2005, the state Supreme Court declined to hear Lumumba's appeal. The state high court reinstated Lumumba to the bar in 2007 with an 8 to 1 decision.

Comments

donnaladd 4 years, 6 months ago

Here is more information from past JFP articles:

Adam Lynch reported in 2009:

Lumumba's history as a lawyer has been equally colorful. In 1976 he joined the staff of the Detroit Public Defenders Office. He set up his own law firm in 1978, dedicated to defending the oppressed. He even sued his old university for allegedly abandoning an affirmative action program for African Americans.

He has locked antlers with bar associations in Michigan and Mississippi. In Michigan he refused to give authorities information about a client, and in 2000, the Mississippi Bar Association reprimanded him for describing Hinds County Circuit Judge Swan Yerger as a racist.

In 1996, Leake County Circuit Court convicted Lumumba's client, Henry Payton, of bank robbery and arson. The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the decision and sent the trial back to Judge Marcus Gordon for a second round.

The court found Payton guilty again, though Lumumba said Gordon was openly hostile to Payton. In 2001, Lumumba filed a motion for a new trial, based on some jurors' opinion that they had compromised due to Gordon's instructions to continue deliberating until they had a decision. At the hearing Gordon cut off Lumumba's selection of potential jurors. The judge also allowed Payton to be led to the court in chains, possibly coloring jury opinion against Payton, and he interrupted Lumumba during his opening statements.

Lumumba told Clarion-Ledger reporter Jimmie Gates that Gordon "had the judicial demeanor of a barbarian." Gordon held him in contempt for Lumumba's claim of Gordon's unfair handling of the case, which began a chain of events culminating with Lumumba being removed from the courtroom amid challenges from Lumumba that he was proud to be rid of Gordon's presence. He was jailed for three days and fined a combined $800.

In 2003 a bar complaint tribunal decided to reprimand Lumumba, though the bar appealed the tribunal's decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court, requesting a one-year suspension of the attorney. The Supreme Court agreed to a six-month suspension. The Mississippi Supreme Court reinstated Lumumba in 2007 with an 8 to 1 decision.

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donnaladd 4 years, 6 months ago

Here is a column attorney June Hardwick (who just lost her Ward 7 council challange) submitted to the JFP about Lumumba's bar troubles:

I have read the Supreme Court's decision. I am unconvinced that their decision is fair and just. I sense that other reasons underlie the Court's decision. Those might include Lumumba's political beliefs, his work in the community throughout the nation on behalf of blacks, his outspokenness and his courage. [...]

It's scary, people. Why, you might ask? I am compelled to compare the amount of power American systems possess with the amount of power possessed by the individual. The individual may be educated, under-educated, uneducated, employed, under-employed, unemployed, impoverished, wealthy, passive, active, law-abiding, hell-raising, of African descent, or European descent. Indeed, the individual is diverse and multi-faceted.

Yet, individuals possess the common thread of possibly being overpowered, abused, misused and violated by or by way of American institutions. Enter attorneys who advocate on behalf of individuals that comprise disadvantaged groups. Attorneys are charged to actively represent within reason their clients. This is true of activist attorneys as well as non-activist attorneys.

With that said, I ask what made Lumumba's actions, namely his words, so very criminal to warrant a suspension? To be sure, the suspension on its face seems harmless. Six months come and go so quickly these days. Yet, it is not the length of the suspension that troubles those who devoutly support Lumumba. It is the fact that the Bar presented suspension as an option to punish him and that the Supreme Court obliged the Bar. It is the fact that he passed all portions of the Bar years ago. It is the fact that Lumumba has been adequately punished already. A three-panel tribunal formed at the request of the Bar by the Supreme Court chief justice decided that to publicly reprimand was a sufficient punishment. The Bar decided otherwise.

Lumumba served three days in jail. He paid fines. Why suspension? Why Lumumba? Again, given his political convictions, given his audacity to speak truth loudly, given his self-sacrificial work for the community over the past 30 years, one might reasonably conclude that Judge Gordon, the Bar and the Supreme Court collectively have more of an issue with Chokwe Lumumba the activist rather than Chokwe Lumumba the attorney.

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donnaladd 4 years, 6 months ago

And this is the piece I wrote in 2002 (the month the paper started) after I was asked to leave a rally on Lumumba's behalf at Freelon's.

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