Judge orders $150,000 in botched lawsuit

Lorie Chandler Cooperwood talks with one of her attorneys, Robert Carlton of Clarksdale.
Staff Writer

A judge orders a $50,000 judgement against a West Point law firm that botched a former client’s workman’s compensation case, but cleared an attorney and her father of punitive damages while directing a $100,000 penalty against a clerk who is the lawyer’s sister.

During a two-part, six-hour trial Monday, Special Judge Larry Roberts awarded Lori Chandler Cooperwood $50,000 in compensatory damages against attorney Angela Turner, her sister, Carolyn Turner Karriem, the estate of their late father, Bennie Turner who died in November 2012, and the Turner and Associates law firm.

In addition, he ordered $100,000 in punitive damages against Karriem for actions he said “shocked his conscience.”

However, he ruled the late Bennie Turner and the law firm, nor Angela Turner who took control of the practice after her father’s death, should be punished for Karriem’s actions.

In his ruling, Roberts said while “it is extremely disturbing that she had no idea” what was happening with cases in the law firm, it was “a little too much of stretch” to say Angela Turner committed the kind of “gross negligence” required by the law to make her accountable for punitive damages.

Roberts had ruled last October that all four were liable for damages Cooperwood, who was Lori Chandler at the time, suffered when the law firm took her on as client in August 2008 after she was injured on the job at Cooper Tire in Tupelo in March 2008.

The law firm let the two-year statute of limitations lapse without filing any kind of claim, meaning Cooperwood lost her legal rights to disability payments and damages.

After Roberts’ ruling last fall, both sides agreed on Monday for a non-jury trial.

Cooperwood’s lawyers estimated she was owed $59,400 in potential lost disability payments between March 2008 and the end of 2010. After the first two hours of testimony, Roberts ruled on the $50,000 figure before starting the punitive-damage phase.

During the trial, Cooperwood testified she’d met with both Angela Turner and Karriem during the years the firm represented her. But Turner, Karriem and another former employee of the law firm, Pamela Porter Lowe, said Cooperwood only ever asked for Karriem and never met with Turner or any other lawyer.

During the trial, testimony showed that starting in 2012 and going into 2013, the law firm started telling Cooperwood different settlement offers that hd been made until she finally accepted one for $100,000. Karen apparently was making up those claims as a way to stall Cooperwood.

As it turned out, Karriem had made up Cooper Tire stationary and faked letters and e-mails from a fictitious Cooper Tire executive to try to put off Cooperwood, who ultimately found out on her own that nothing had happened, fired the law firm and filed the lawsuit.

Separately, Karriem had been paying a different client as much as $18,000 in her own money to try to fend off his legal claims for a similar case in Pontotoc County.

Angela Turner said she didn’t find out about her sister’s actions until she was served with the lawsuits within months of each other and finally fired her sister in August 2014.

“She was trying to clean up her messes,” Karriem’s attorney, Barbara Clarke, told the judge in a closing statement.

Clarke noted that while making up documents and other issues were some evidence of fraud, the actual harm to Cooperwood had been done when the law firm failed to file a timely legal claim.

“I must say in my my more than 40 years wearing a black robe, I’ve never factually seen a case like this…a most egregious set of circumstances,” Roberts said in making his ruling.

The verdicts almost certainly will be appealed.

Cooperwood and Turner both declined comment after the trial.