Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who does the Office of General Counsel represent?
What type of legal services does the Office of General Counsel provide?
How can I contact the Office of General Counsel?
Can the Office of General Counsel represent or give legal advice to individual employees or students on non-university matters?
Can I hire a private attorney to handle a university matter?
What should I do if I am contacted by an outside attorney or investigator in connection with University business?
I have been served with a subpoena. What should I do?
I have been served with a lawsuit related to my university responsibilities. What should I do?
Will the university defend me if I am sued for something that I allegedly did or did not do while at work?
Do I have authority to sign a university contract, memorandum of understanding, lease, license or other agreement?
What happens if I sign a contract for which I did not have authority to sign?
Are the personal emails that I send and receive on my university computer private?
Can anyone obtain copies of my University email?
How can my University email be considered a "public record"?
I received a letter requesting University records under the Mississippi Public Records Act. What should I do?

 

Who does the Office of General Counsel represent?

The Office of General Counsel provides legal advice and representation to The University of Southern Mississippi. The University and all of its schools and departments are one legal entity. In that capacity, the Office of General Counsel advises the President, University administrators, faculty, and staff who are acting on behalf of the University on various issues to reach decisions that are in the best interest of the University.

What type of legal services does the Office of General Counsel provide?

The Office of General Counsel is responsible for providing a full range of legal services to the University. Its attorneys work in a variety of practice areas on campus. Some areas in which Office of General Counsel attorneys can provide legal advice are: labor and employment, business matters, contract review, litigation, copyright, property acquisitions, student and faculty issues, among others.

How can I contact the Office of General Counsel?

The Office of General Counsel is located on the Hattiesburg campus on the 4th floor of the International Building, Room 412, Hattiesburg, MS 39406. We can be reached by telephone at 601-266-4466 or by email at generalcounsel@usm.edu.

Can the Office of General Counsel represent or give legal advice to individual employees or students on non-university matters?

No. The Office of General Counsel does not provide personal legal services to employees or students.

Can I hire a private attorney to handle a university matter?

No. Only the Office of General Counsel may retain outside counsel for matters related to the University.

What should I do if I am contacted by an outside attorney or investigator in connection with University business?

All dealings with outside attorneys or investigators should be conducted through the Office of General Counsel. Therefore, you should not respond and should immediately contact the Office of General Counsel. Our office will coordinate the appropriate response to such legal inquiries.

I have been served with a subpoena. What should I do?

If you receive a subpoena related to the University, your department, or your work in any way, you should contact the Office of General Counsel immediately so we can respond appropriately and in a timely fashion. The Office of General Counsel coordinates the response to all subpoenas received by the University, regardless of which departments' records are actually being subpoenaed. The Office of General Counsel will review the subpoena to determine the University's rights and responsibilities for compliance prior to responding. The Office will follow-up with you regarding any documents that may need to be produced. Please do not respond to a subpoena directly or speak to the attorneys or parties involved in the matter.

I have been served with a lawsuit related to my university responsibilities. What should I do?

Contact the Office of General Counsel immediately. By law the University must respond to lawsuits within a specified time period after you are served. Therefore, please note the date, time, and precise method the summons and complaint (lawsuit) were delivered. The lawsuit may have been served by certified mail or in-person by a process server. It is imperative that you notify the Office of General Counsel as soon as you are served so we can review the matter and respond in a timely manner.

Will the university defend me if I am sued for something that I allegedly did or did not do while at work?

While this is determined on a case by case basis, if you have been sued in connection with your official duties as a University employee and you have acted lawfully and in good faith, you will likely be indemnified and defended by the University. "Official duties" include those duties and responsibilities that are part of the employee's job description and authority. An employee personally named as a defendant in a lawsuit should contact the Office of General Counsel immediately.

Do I have authority to sign a university contract, memorandum of understanding, lease, license or other agreement?

IHL Board Policy No. 707 makes clear that no one other than the IHL Board, the institutional Executive Officers, and those USM officials to whom contract signature authority has been specifically granted in writing by the USM President, is authorized to sign any contract, of any type, on behalf of USM.

707.02 OTHER OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS
The Institutional Executive Officer of each institution, or a designee as evidenced in writing, is authorized to sign all other official documents for and on behalf of the institution for which he or she is responsible. Anyone who signs a contract without authorization is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

The USM President has executed written letters authorizing specific USM officials to execute contracts on behalf of USM. At this time, there are only five persons who have been designated signature authority by the President:

1. Dr. Douglas Vinzant, Vice President for Finance and Administration;
2. Dr. Steven R. Moser, Interim Provost;
3. Dr. Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research;
4. Mr. Steven Ballew, Director of Procurement and Contract Services

What happens if I sign a contract for which I did not have authority to sign?

Unless a USM employee has received a specific written authorization from the President to sign contracts on behalf of USM, then a USM employee who does so is not only risking disciplinary action, including termination, but also will undoubtedly expose himself/herself to personal liability for the contract. In the event of litigation, USM's legal defense will be that the employee who signed the contract had no authority to do so and USM disavows the contract and any liability that is resulting therefrom.

Are the personal emails that I send and receive on my university computer private?

No. Per the University Acceptable Use Policy, data or email users create or receive on University systems remain the property of Southern Miss and no privacy can be expected while using these systems. Because of the need to protect the University's network, the University cannot guarantee the confidentiality of information stored on any network device belonging to Southern Miss. (See Acceptable Use Policy ACAF-IT-010)

Can anyone obtain copies of my University email?

Yes. The University is a public agency of the State of Mississippi and is subject to the Mississippi Public Records Act. Under Mississippi's Public Records Act, most records in our possession (including emails) are subject to inspection by or disclosure to members of the public upon their request. See Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-1, et seq.

How can my University email be considered a “public record”?

As a public institution, the University is subject to public oversight. One important means the Legislature has created to assure such oversight is the ability of the public to have access to University records and documents. All documents (whether paper or electronic) that relate to the official duties of University employees are considered public records, subject to inspection by any member of the public (with a few exceptions).

Pursuant to the Mississippi Public Records Act, emails, texts, correspondence, papers, books, etc. which are prepared or retained for use in the conduct or performance of any business, transaction, or function of the University are considered to be a "public record" and subject to disclosure unless otherwise exempt from the Public Records Act. See Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-3(b).

I received a letter requesting University records under the Mississippi Public Records Act. What should I do?

You should immediately contact the Office of General Counsel at 601-266-4466.