Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Plane Meaning

The Illinois Review Board has recommended a censure of an attorney based on findings of misconduct arising from the representation of a person who survived an airplane crash.

The findings

As a result of the crash, [client] Gumus underwent back surgery and was hospitalized for several weeks. Following his release from the hospital, he went to his ex-wife's home in Rotterdam to recuperate. The first evening he arrived at his ex-wife's home, he suffered a heart attack. Sometime after the plane crash but prior to April 19, 2009, he retained a Netherlands law firm called SAP Advocaten ("SAP") to represent him in all claims relating to the crash.

Soon after the crash, Respondent sent representatives to the Netherlands to meet with victims of the crash. Surreya Yigitbasi ("Yigitbasi"), a lawyer in Turkey, worked for Respondent on an hourly basis. He referred clients to Respondent's firm and assisted Respondent with matters relating to the crash. Yigitbasi testified at the hearing in this matter that he received a phone call in April 2009 from Ali Atak ("Atak"), who identified himself as Gumus' uncle. Yigitbasi gave Gumus' phone number to a lawyer from Respondent's firm. On April 19, four individuals visited Gumus while he was bedridden. After a presentation lasting several hours, Gumus signed a document to retain Respondent's firm to represent him in the United States in claims against Boeing Company or any other persons or corporations that could be liable for his injuries arising out of the plane crash.

As of April 19, Gumus had already retained SAP and he had no intention of discharging SAP from representing him. He was in pain during the meeting and did not understand the purpose of the meeting. Within a day after the meeting, Gumus called SAP. He asked SAP to "certify that these are not my lawyers" and asked for assistance to prevent the four individuals from disturbing him any further. SAP lawyer Sander de Lang ("de Lang") explained at his evidence deposition that under Dutch law, a client may cancel any agreement within eight days after signing without incurring any costs. Mr. de Lang assisted Gumus in preparing a document entitled "Notice of Withdrawal of Attorney", withdrawing "the power of attorney for representation" by Respondent's firm. Mr. de Lang sent a letter and the Notice of Withdrawal to Respondent. Respondent admitted receiving the documents. However, Respondent believed that Gumus was simply confused as to why he had hired Respondent's firm. Respondent did not contact Gumus or de Lang after receipt of the letter and the Notice. Instead, she testified she contacted Yigitbasi, who in turn contacted Atak. Atak did not contact Gumus but told Yigitbasi in this same conversation that everything was "okay" and that Yigitbasi could continue. Yigitbasi relayed the content of the conversation with Atak to Respondent. Respondent testified she then proceeded to do work for Gumus and other victims of the crash in 2009 and early 2010.

Gumus was unaware that Respondent was still acting as his lawyer and he did not authorize Respondent to perform any services on his behalf. SAP worked during the same time period on behalf of Gumus. SAP also worked with an associate in the Kreindler & Kreindler law firm in New York named Orla Brady, and with the Chicago law firm of Powers, Roger & Smith.

On March 23, 2010, Respondent filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County on behalf of Gumus and others against Boeing. She did not communicate with Gumus prior to filing suit. Respondent testified she told Yigitbasi to contact Gumus to approve the filing of the complaint. Yigitbasi told Respondent that he was unable to reach Gumus but that Atak said to go ahead and file the complaint. There was no testimony that either Yigitbasi or Atak communicated with Gumus. Gumus testified he never authorized Respondent to represent him or to file a lawsuit on his behalf.

In early May 2010, Mr. de Lang learned from Turkish Airlines that Respondent was claiming to represent Gumus. He immediately sent an e-mail to Respondent stating that Gumus had discharged Respondent and attaching the April 2009 Notice. Respondent's partner, Mervin Mateo, a New York lawyer, responded to the e-mail advising de Lang of the lawsuit and stating that it would be detrimental to Gumus to dismiss the case. Mateo asserted that Respondent would contact the client. Respondent did not contact Gumus although she claimed an associate, Ray Welcher ("Welcher"), sent Gumus a letter dated May 6, advising him of the filing of the action against Boeing. Welcher denied writing or authorizing the letter. Gumus testified he never received a letter from Respondent's office.

After a flurry of e-mails between various lawyers, Kreindler & Kreindler and Powers, Roger & Smith moved to substitute as counsel in the lawsuit. Thereafter, at Respondent's direction, Welcher contacted Orla Brady of Kreindler & Kreindler and told Brady that Respondent's firm would not oppose the motion to substitute if Brady agreed to pay Respondent's firm 50% of any fees received. Brady refused the demand. Respondent did not appear at the hearing on the motion to substitute but sent Welcher to appear for the firm. At the hearing on the motion to substitute, Brady made an oral motion for sanctions against Respondent. The Court granted the motion to substitute but denied the oral motion for sanctions, stating, "Put it in writing and I will reconsider it." There was no testimony that Brady ever requested reconsideration; she reported Respondent's conduct to the ARDC.

The board agreed with the hearing board that the attorney violated Rule 1.16.  (Mike Frisch)

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