July 3, 2012
Read Before Suing
A Massachusetts attorney was retained by a divorced woman to pursue remedies when her ex-husband did not pay private school tuition for their child. She paid the attorney $3,500 and provided him with a copy of the divorce agreement.
The agreement provided for a process to resolve the issue of tuition payments. Unfortunately, the attorney failed to understand this, as he "did not review the agreement sufficiently to appreciate that the parties were required to present disputes over the payments to the court."
When the ex-husband advised the attorney that he was financially unable to pay, the attorney filed a motion for contempt. The ex-husband's attorney responded that there was no basis for contempt as his client had not violated an unambiguous court order. The attorney failed to review the agreement and did not file a response.
The contempt motion was dismissed and the client fired the attorney on the day of the hearing.
The attorney thereafter did not return the unearned portion of the fee until after a bar complaint was filed.
The atorney was publicly reprimanded, as described in this summary from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers. (Mike Frisch)
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