Monday, May 5, 2014
The Georgia Supreme Court accepted a petition for voluntary discipline and ordered the imposition of a review panel reprimand of an attorney for misconduct in his personal injury law practice.
For approximately seven years, Mashek has run a solo practice representing personal injury litigants. He admits that medical providers have been a primary source of referrals to his firm, in that they would alert his office that a person receiving treatment or contemplating medical treatment was also seeking legal counsel.
At that point someone employed by Mashek’s firm would directly contact the potential client. It was standard practice for Mashek’s firm to send a “sign up person” to meet with the patient, discuss legal representation, and get the engagement-related paperwork filled out. During the time at issue in this matter, Mashek employed several paralegals who often communicated directly with clients and potential clients. Further, Mashek’s clients and cases were tracked, in part, using a computerized case management system. Southern Healthcare Associates (“SHA”) was a medical provider that referred patients to various lawyers, including Mashek. SHA made these referrals because legal representation was a crucial tool in getting its bills paid. Mashek asserts that he never paid SHA or anyone else to solicit or refer clients to his firm and that he had no knowledge, prior to this matter, that SHA improperly solicited patients for these legal referrals. The State Bar has not shown otherwise.
On October 7, 2011, a man was involved in an automobile accident and within a few days spoke with friends about possible referrals to medical providers, but not to legal counsel. On October 14, a representative from Mashek’s office contacted the man by telephone and solicited him for both legal representation and medical care. A “sign up person” from Mashek’s office met with the man later that day, and the man signed paperwork hiring Mashek to represent him. The Bar contends that Mashek’s representative referred the man to SHA during that meeting, while Mashek contends that his representative contacted the man only after someone from SHA contacted Mashek’s office to refer the man to his practice. Noting that it was unclear how the man’s accident case was “run” to either SHA or Mashek, the special master found that no clear and convincing evidence existed that Mashek actually knew that the case was improperly solicited. Nevertheless, the special master condemned Mashek’s behavior, noting that he likely should have known that the man’s case was suspect and that he initiated a system in his office through which his representatives contacted potential clients based on no more than tips from a medical provider and without knowing anything about how the client originated.
The court agreed that the attorney violated rules governing supervision of non-lawyer employees and solictation. (Mike Frisch)