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Office of General Counsel

Our Office

 

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 5th floor of the International Building, Room 505, 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, these are the only persons who  have been designated as signature authorities by the President:

  • Ms. Allyson Easterwood, Vice President for Finance and Administration;
  • Dr. Steven R. Moser, Provost and VP for Academic Affairs;
  • Dr. Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research;
  • Ms. Marcia Landen, Associate Vice President for Research
  • Mr. Steven Ballew, Director of Procurement and Contract Services;
  • Mr. David Sliman, Chief Information Officer; and
  • Mr. Jacob Cochran, Director of Auxilliary 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. 

Subpoenas

Like most other educational institutions, the University receives numerous requests for information and records regarding students, employees and the University’s business activities.  These requests come in many forms, including letters, faxes, phone calls and formal subpoenas from courts of law at the local, state and federal level. A subpoena is a written order issued by a court, by an officer of the court, or by an administrative agency that requires the production of documents and/or attendance of a witness at a trial, deposition or hearing.   

Because of the increasing complexity of state and federal laws governing access to information and the potential privacy rights of individuals whose personal information is being sought, all subpoenas or other court papers you receive concerning your work at Southern Miss must be promptly brought to the attention of the Office of General Counsel.  Indeed, subpoenas directed to the University require special attention and should be forwarded immediately to the General Counsel’s Office for handling. 

If you should receive a subpoena in your office, please be aware of the following:

  • Office of General Counsel coordinates the response to all subpoenas received by the University, regardless of which departments’ records are actually being subpoenaed.  Having the subpoena handled by our office ensures that all appropriate departments are contacted, all subpoenaed records are provided and any personal appearances are made as required by law. 
  • If you receive a subpoena via personal service, in the mail, by fax, or by email, forward it immediately to the Office of General Counsel.  Most subpoenas have a required response date and failing to respond by that date can leave the University open to judicial sanctions.  
  • In order for a subpoena to be considered valid and trigger the University’s obligation to comply by providing the requested documents or personal appearance, it must meet certain legal requirements.  Our office will determine the subpoena’s validity before turning over any records to an outside party or requiring any University employee to appear in Court. 
  • Please do not respond to a subpoena directly or speak to the attorneys or parties involved in the matter. 
  • In the event our office receives a subpoena for records held by your office, you will be contacted by a member of our staff regarding the production of any such documents.  
  • Do not remove or destroy any documents potentially subject to a subpoena request.  If you have a question about whether a specific document or documents in a file are covered by a subpoena, please speak to a member of our staff or flag the document(s) for special attention. 
  • Many departments have confidentiality and security concerns about allowing original files out of the office.  The Office of General Counsel has significant experience in dealing with these issues and will work with departments to arrange for the production of documents in a manner that is sensitive to such issues.

Authority to Sign Contracts

Section 707 of the Policies and By-laws of the IHL Board give specific authority to the IHL Board and its Commissioner to approve land, property and service contracts that exceed the stated financial threshold, i.e. $100,000 for land contracts and $250,000 for service contracts. Section 707.02 gives the institutional executive officer of each institution or a designee as evidenced in writing, authority 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 and may be civilly liable for all public funds expended under the contract.

PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS

To submit a public records request, send an email to publicrecordsFREEMississippi.  The email should specifically identify the records that are needed , including, but not limited to:  dates, document types (i.e. police reports or student conduct reports), names of parties involved, etc.  Cost varies and an estimate will be provided to you via email.

NOTE:  All emails sent or received via your @usm.edu email account are public records because we are a public institution; and there is no expectation of privacy.

CAMPUS SECURITY

The University of Southern Mississippi Police Department is responsible for providing security for the University community.  The department is accredited by the National Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and provides a full range of police services to the University community,  as well as non-traditional law enforcement services, i.e., escort services.  The department is dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life on campus by working cooperatively within the framework of the constitution to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear, and provide a safe environment for the University.  The department exists to serve all people within its jurisdiction and is committed to the prevention of crime, protection of life and property; the preservation of peace, order, and safety; the enforcement of laws and University rules; and the safeguarding of constitutional guarantees.

University Police Department:  http://usm.edu/police

Whom to Call in an Emergency:      http://www.usm.edu/police/whom-call-emergency

Reporting a Crime:   http://usm.edu/police/reporting-crime

Responding to an Emergency:   http://www.usm.edu/police/responding-emergency

UPD  

The University Police Department collects, maintains and publishes information related to campus safety.  Such information may be accessed and reviewed at the following links:

Annual Security Fire and Safety Report:    http://usm.edu/police/annual-securityfire-safety-report

Clery Act:     http://usm.edu/police/clery-act

Crime Log:   http://usm.edu/police/crime-log

Third Party Links

Community and State Resources:   http://usm.edu/police/community-and-state-resources


OUR STAFF

Bob Gholson joined the University as General Counsel in March, 2016. Prior to joining the University, he was a shareholder with the firm of Gholson Burson Entrekin & Orr, P.A. where he practiced in the areas of insurance defense, personal injury, workers compensation, medical malpractice defense, federal litigation, products liability, consumer finance litigation, and pharmaceutical and medical device litigation. Mr. Gholson received his Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Mississippi in 1978. He graduated with a Juris Doctorate in 1981 from the University of Mississippi School of Law. From 1988 to 1996, he served in the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAGC) in the Mississippi Army National Guard, achieving the rank of major. Mr. Gholson later served a term as a Judge with the Mississippi Court of Military Appeals. From 2002 to 2016, Mr. Gholson served as Special Master to hear specialized claims and resolve pretrial disputes in several large dockets of asbestos claims. He is a member of the Mississippi Bar, Jones County Bar Association, the Mississippi Bar Foundation, the Defense Research and Trial Lawyers' Association, International Association of Defense Counsel, Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association (including having served as a past member of the Board of Directors), and the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Gholson is a member of the bar in Mississippi and Tennessee, and is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.

Phone: 601.266.4466

Email: Bob.GholsonFREEMississippi

Subrina L. Cooper is an Associate General Counsel for The University of Southern Mississippi.  Ms. Cooper first joined the University in 2004 as a faculty member in the position of the Director of Paralegal Studies.  However, in 2011, Ms. Cooper began working in the Office of General Counsel in addition to her duties as Director/Associate Professor of Paralegal Studies.  Ms. Cooper left the faculty ranks in 2013 to become full-time Associate General Counsel.  Prior to joining the University, Ms. Cooper was in private practice.  Ms. Cooper received her B.S. degree in Paralegal Studies from The University of Southern Mississippi in 1990 and her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1993.  She is a member of the Mississippi Bar Association, South Central Mississippi Bar Association and the National Association of College and University Attorneys.  Ms. Cooper is also the author of several published articles on various legal issues.

  Phone:  601.266.4466                    Email:  subrina.cooperFREEMississippi  

Paul Walters joined The University of Southern Mississippi as its first Director of Compliance and Ethics in August 2012. He also serves as Associate General Counsel for the University. Prior to joining the University, Paul was in private law practice for seven years and with the United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a combined total of twenty-two years. Paul received a B.B.A. degree in Banking, Finance and Economics from the University of Mississippi in 1980 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1983. He is a member of the Mississippi Bar Association, the National Association of College and University Attorneys, the Society of Compliance and Ethics Professionals and the National Clery Compliance Officers and Professionals.

Phone: 601.266.4466

Email: paul.waltersFREEMississippi

Kris Powell joined the Office of the General Counsel in 2019, and focuses his practice on representing the University’s legal interests in matters primarily involving the institution’s relationship with external parties.  Such matters include contracts, research, real estate, capital improvement and expenditure, asset acquisition, intellectual property, and litigation.  Prior to joining the University’s legal team on a full-time basis, Mr. Powell practiced law with the prominent South Mississippi law firm Bryan Nelson P.A., for 15 years. In private practice, Kris developed extensive experience in complex commercial and business litigation matters, including prosecuting and defending cases through judgment and appeal, in both state and federal courts.  His experience with complex matters and claims often involving the potential for high exposure, involved diverse industries ranging from nationally recognized insurance brands, manufacturers and suppliers of industrial products, to property development companies and commercial contractors, as well as state agencies and governing authorities.  Kris successfully obtained the dismissal of a federal class action lawsuit filed against a large national insurance company arising in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, successfully defended a major industrial equipment manufacturer from multiple property, contract, warranty and personal injury claims following an industrial accident that allegedly shuttered a manufacturing plant for nearly a year, and has defended claims of product liability and inadequate warnings, including successfully obtaining the dismissal of the claims brought by in excess of 10,000 plaintiffs alleging toxic exposure.  Kris has successfully litigated matters involving copyright and trademarks, including allegations of infringement, and has significant experience with the protection of confidential and proprietary information, trade secrets, and unfair competition, as well non-disclosure and non-compete agreements.  While in private practice, Kris represented the University in major asset acquisitions, capital improvement projects, and in defending the University from legal claims in litigated matters.  Kris obtained a B.S., summa cum laude, from The University of Southern Mississippi, followed by a J.D., with honors, from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2004. Kris is admitted to practice law before all state and federal courts in the State of Mississippi, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Court of the United States.

Phone: 601.266.4466            

Email: kris.powellFREEMississippi

Jennifer serves as the Assistant Director of Compliance and Ethics and previously served as USM's first Compliance Coordinator from September, 2015 through May, 2019. She joined the University in 2014 as a Business Analyst in iTech and in that capacity worked with the Office of Compliance and Ethics to implement the Online Compliance program. Prior to joining USM, Jennifer served as the Senior Business Analyst and Learning Administrator for Novant Health in Charlotte, NC for almost five years as well as subsequently serving as a technology analyst contracted out to TIAA-CREF. Jennifer received a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, a paralegal certificate from Midlands Community College in Columbia, South Carolina, attended a year and a half of law school at the University of Tulsa (during which she served as a member of the Older American's Law Project as well as serving as a research assistant), obtained her Masters in Adult Education from the University of Phoenix and received her Masters in Healthcare Administration from Pfeiffer University. Ms. Lewis completed her Business Administration Certificate at USM in 2016. Currently, Ms. Lewis is in the process of completing her PhD in Higher Education Administration with an emphasis on Student Affairs at USM. During her time at Pfeiffer, Ms. Lewis conducted research that was ultimately published in the Disability Journal and presented at the international Unite for Site Conference held at Yale. Ms. Lewis recently authored a chapter in the book Epigenetics, the Environment, and Children's Health Across Lifespans and recently authored a chapter entitled Understanding Barriers Preventing Those with Limited Mobility from Obtaining Equal Access and Opportunity to Exercise and Achieve Overall Health which was published in the book Advances in Exercise and Health for People with Mobility Limitations

Phone: 601.266.4469

Email: jennifer.lewisFREEMississippi

Rebecca serves as the first ever Title IX Coordinator and has been functioning in that capacity since February, 2015. She joined the University in 2000 as USM's first full-time Affirmative Action/EEO Officer. Prior to joining USM, Rebecca worked in higher education administration for over 25 years with positions in student life and institutional equity at each of the following institutions: Oregon State, University of Northern Iowa, Illinois College and Oberlin College. Rebecca received a B.A. from Millsaps College, a Masters from Oregon State University and a PhD (in Communications Studies) from USM during which she conducted research focused on organizational crisis communication.

Phone: 601.266.4466

Email: rebecca.malleyFREEMississippi

Cristin Reynolds serves as the University's Deputy Title IX Coordinator. Prior to holding this position, she served as an intern and graduate assistant for the Title IX Office from 2015-2019.  Ms. Reynolds received her B.S. in Biological Sciences (Chemistry minor), and her M.Ed. in Higher Education (focus on Student Affairs) from The University of Southern Mississippi. Currently, Cristin is a doctoral student in the Higher Education Administration program at The University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests include student conduct, higher education law/policy, and Title IX compliance.  

Phone : 601-266-4671                       

Email: cristin.reynoldsFREEMississippi

Tonisa Kennedy joined the Office of University Counsel in October of 2016 providing paralegal support to the attorneys with litigation and responding to public records requests as well as managing document retention. Before joining The University of Southern Mississippi, Tonisa was employed by the law offices of Montague, Pittman & Varnado for seventeen years, working primarily in litigation. Tonisa received her Associates degree in Paralegal Studies from Jones County Junior College in 1999 and received her Bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in Paralegal Studies in 2014.

Phone: 601.266.6204

Email: tonisa.kennedyFREEMississippi

Cathy joined the staff of the Office of General Counsel in November, 2015. She provides support services for the attorneys, including preparation of documents, receptionist duties, and general office management. A native of the Greenwood, MS area, Cathy relocated to the Hattiesburg, MS area in 2010 with her husband of 30 years and her two children who are both USM graduates. Prior to working in the General Counsel office, Cathy worked in the HR department at USM for a number of years.

Phone: 601.266.4466

Email: cathy.connellFREEMississippi

 

General Inquiries:

 

To contact the Office of General Counsel, please email generalcounselFREEMississippi

Public Records Requests: To submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act, email your request to publicrecordsFREEMississippi

Associated Offices


Office of Compliance and Ethics                         Title IX Office

Contact Us

Office of General Counsel
International Center (IC) 505
118 College Drive # 5079
Hattiesburg, MS 39406

Hattiesburg Campus

Campus Map

Phone
601.266.4466

The content on this site is for informational and educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice.