Attorney’s law license remains in question

Published 12:03 pm Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vicksburg attorney Marshall Sanders has a release date from federal prison, but the status of his license to practice law remains unclear.

“They’ll decide when they decide,” Adam Kilgore, general counsel for the Mississippi Bar Association, said of a review panel weighing the case for a year.

Sanders, 59, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on two misdemeanor counts following a March 2009 plea agreement that allowed him to avoid a possible 15-year sentence on three felony counts for not paying federal income taxes from 2000 to 2003. Also, he was ordered to pay $1,025,453 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. He is to be released from a correctional facility in Montgomery, Ala., on Oct. 16, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Though incarcerated, Sanders remains licensed to practice law in Mississippi.

The bar, which licenses attorneys, makes recommendations to the Supreme Court, which issues discipline orders.

In the Sanders case, a three-year suspension is recommended based on case law in Mississippi and American Bar Association standards for sanctions against attorneys. Three rules of professional conduct were violated as a result of Sanders’ sentence, the bar argues. Those govern criminal acts committed by an attorney, holding of third-party property and provisions against a lawyer violating or attempting to violate the rules themselves.

The tribunal canceled a trial last December following Sanders’ admission during the proceeding that he did not file a return for any year since 1994 — which was stated in the original indictment in May 2008 — and that he mixed personal and business funds with clients’ funds or other party funds to keep his lawyer trust account open and avoid bank fees. The accounts are typically used for client funds, real estate closings and other matters. The bar withdrew its allegation in the complaint, based on what it said was insufficient evidence, that Sanders did so to conceal income from the IRS, also alleged in the government’s indictment and denied by Sanders during the tribunal proceedings.

“Those are proceedings I don’t comment on, but they are ongoing,” said Jackson-based attorney and former Supreme Court Justice Fred L. Banks, who represented Sanders before the tribunal.

Responses from Sanders’ counsel said he was “aware of his transgressions and remorseful concerning them” and he “willingly accepts a reasonable sanction.” Banks asked for a sanction lighter than a three-year suspension, citing a “less negative disciplinary record” for Sanders than other attorneys who have gotten in trouble.

Sanders grew up in Vicksburg before attending Harvard University for an economics degree and Emory University School of Law. In a letter to the tribunal, Sanders’ wife, Deborah, lauded his community service record and said her husband “is a man who has changed the lives of thousands of people around the state of Mississippi and beyond.”

“Marshall is a man who rarely says no to those who are in need and because of this, his reputation is untarnished and strong,” her letter continued. “His integrity, loyalty, hard work and diligence are only a few of the reasons he is respected and loved by so many people. He realizes that he has let them down. He hopes to begin anew to regain that trust.”

Tribunals are chosen by the state Supreme Court to handle disciplinary cases against lawyers. Hearing the bar’s case for discipline against Sanders were Monticello-based Chancellor Joe Dale Walker and attorneys Ronald Peresich of Biloxi and Warren Conway of Gulfport.

In several recent cases, licenses have been permanently revoked or surrendered by high-profile attorneys, including Dickie Scruggs of Oxford, former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters and Hinds Judge Bobby DeLaughter.