April 17, 2012
Out At The Plate
An Illinois hearing board has recommended a suspension of one year for an attorney who was found to have engaged in misconduct in two matters.
The attorney took over a civil case on behalf of a plaintiff shortly before trial. The former lawyer asserted a lien. The attorney had the case dismissed and refiled. The hearing committee found that the attorney engaged in dishonest conduct designed to deprive former counsel of his fee.
The other case also involved a personal injury claim. The client worked for a friend of the attorney. The friend and the attorney shared season tickets to the White Sox. The client had a $20,000 settlement offer when (as she testified) she first met the attorney at a game:
Although Respondent denied it, we also find he knew Ms. Bird had already received a settlement offer of approximately $20,000.00 when he took over the case. Both Ms. Bird and Mr. Miller testified Respondent agreed to handle the case after they discussed the matter during a White Sox game, which they attended together. Although no one could remember the exact date of the game, both Ms. Bird and Mr. Miller gave similar accounts of the discussion that led to Respondent being hired. Ms. Bird testified when they told Respondent about the accident, her injuries and what the insurance company had offered, Respondent represented he could get her more money and could probably double the offer. Mr. Miller testified he specifically recalled teasing Respondent about how easy this "attorney stuff" was before telling him he had been able to obtain a $20,000.00 settlement offer for Ms. Bird. Like Ms. Bird, he also recalled Respondent telling them he could get Ms. Bird "a lot more money." We found Mr. Miller's testimony regarding this matter credible. While Ms. Bird clearly had an interest in the case, Mr. Miller did not. In addition, Mr. Miller apparently later had a falling out with Ms. Bird, but remains friends with Respondent. Thus, he would have absolutely no motive to fabricate what occurred, especially since his testimony was unfavorable to Respondent.
In contrast, we do not accept Respondent's testimony concerning the circumstances surrounding his hiring. Respondent claimed he was hired well before the White Sox game and knew nothing about either settlement offer. His testimony is not only contrary to that of the other two witnesses, but it is inconsistent with some of the materials in his own file. The earliest item that appears in Respondent's file is the 11 page fax sent to him by Ms. Bird on May 30, 2007. There is nothing in his file to support his testimony he was retained 30 to 45 days prior to receiving this fax. Moreover, although Respondent insisted he knew nothing about either offer, his testimony is directly contradicted by the fact a copy of the $19,091.00 offer is contained in his own file among the 11 pages of materials faxed to him by Ms. Bird. This inconsistency seriously undermines Respondent's credibility regarding this entire matter.
We also find Respondent's testimony that he was unaware of the settlement posture of the case when he took it on is inherently incredible and improbable. Respondent, by his own description, is an experienced personal injury attorney, who has handled hundreds of cases. It is simply not believable he would take on a case, knowing negotiations had already taken place and various settlement figures had been discussed, without determining the details of those matters. Nor does it make sense he would not have learned of the offers, either from his own client or from the insurance company.
The attorney was found to have charged an unreasonable fee that was not reduced to writing. (Mike Frisch)
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