JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Attorneys representing more than 200 Singing River Health System retirees have filed an emergency motion with the Mississippi State Supreme Court accusing a judge and several attorneys of holding a secret meeting.
In a court filing Friday, attorneys Earl Denham and Harvey Barton allege that Judge Breland Hilburn and eight others involved in the SRHS cases gathered in a "clandestine meeting" at Britt Singletary's Biloxi office Tuesday. Singletary is the Special Master appointed in the case.
Denham and Barton's motion before the high court offers video and photographs of what they allege was "a secret ex parte meeting" at Singletary's office that included Judge Hilburn, attorneys Billy Guice, Jim Reeves, Matthew Mestayer, Brett Williams, Kelly Sessums; Steve Simpson, former judge and court appointed trustee for SRHS; and Scott Taylor, the newly appointed SRHS Trustee.
According to the motion, the meeting began just before 2:30 p.m. and by 4: 51 p.m. Judge Hilburn sent an email issuing a stay to all further proceedings in Jackson County Chancery Court. That included a hearing scheduled for Wednesday where Denham and Barton planned to ask Judge Hilburn to remove himself from the Singing River case, along with a motion to allow the attorneys to "resume discovery," or gathering evidence for their case.
Denham and Barton contend the meeting followed by Judge Hilburn's order raises "serious concerns regarding the impartiality, bias, and ongoing conduct" of the judge and Singletary. The 57 page motion asks the Supreme Court to remove Judge Hilburn, Singletary and Simpson, and order all those who were at the meeting to resign from the case.
Singletary confirmed a meeting took place at his office Tuesday afternoon.
"There was nothing secret about it," Singletary said. "It had nothing to do with any pending motions in state court. It was about the federal court case."
Singletary said when the meeting began, Judge Hilburn made it clear the meeting would focus solely on the status of the Singing River Pension Fund and the status of the federal court case related to the proposed class action settlement. According to Singletary, since the meeting was not about the state case and Denham and Barton have refused to join the federal settlement, there was no obligation to include them in the meeting.
"The state court cases were severed, so they had no right to be there," Singletary said.
A proposed class action settlement to fund the retirement plan is pending before U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Wednesday morning.