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This was one of the most egregious cases of ethics violations arising out multiple incidents of wrongdoing by an attorney in connection with, and following the settlement of his client's employment/wrongful termination claim. The settlement involved the client recovering everything she was entitled to (and more) from the attorney. While the names of the parties must remain confidential per the settlement, the case particulars are well worth describing.

Attorney represented Client in an employment lawsuit against her former employer.  Despite some major mistakes made in the preparation of the case and at trial, the client obtained a jury verdict in her favor.  Employer appealed.  At a court supervised mediation before appeal was finalized, Employer made an offer to settle at less than the jury award.  Client did not want to settle, but a co-plaintiff, another employee who had also sued Employer wanted to settle as did the attorney who was anxious to collect his contingency fee.

Client agreed to settle if 1) Attorney to reduce his contingent attorney fee; and 2) guarantee that Client would net a certain amount of money.  Attorney agreed, orally and in writing.  Settlement agreement required Client’s Employer to pay the settlement jointly to Client and Attorney “in Trust for Client” (how it is usually done).

Almost a month later, Attorney forwarded to Client a cashier’s check, made to appear as if it were a check from Client’s Employer to her, in an amount $70,000 less than Client had agreed to accept. Attorney’s cover letter to Client explained that Client was not entitled to the $250,000 to which he agreed because his agreement to the fee compromise he made was allegedly unenforceable.
 
For obvious reasons, Client was disgruntled that Attorney reneged on his fee compromise and gave her less than the amount to which he agreed.  

Shortly thereafter, Client began asking Attorney to produce his accounting on her case.  Attorney refused and simply didn’t respond.  Shortly thereafter, Client retained our firm.  We began asking Attorney to produce his accounting on the file.  We also asked for an explanation for why, or how, Client received her settlement proceeds directly from her Employer (less your claims fees and costs) rather than from Attorneys trust account.

Attorney stonewalled us, and we continued to demand information and the accounting.  Attorney eventually responded but ignored our inquiries regarding the origin of the settlement check, and claimed that he had already produced his accounting to his client. We made additional requests for information, and failing to receive any response, we filed suit against Attorney on Client’s behalf.
 
We contacted counsel for Client’s Employer and asked how it was that the settlement agreement provided for the settlement check to be made payable to “Client and Attorney” but that Client instead received a check payable to her only.  Employer’s counsel informed us that their client in fact complied with the terms of the settlement agreement and provided a copy of the check which indeed showed payment to both Client and Attorney.  The check appears to have been endorsed by both Attorney and by Client.  Client denied ever signing the check, and her alleged signature on the back of the check bears no resemblance to her actual signature whatsoever.  Her signature was plainly forged and the cashier’s check used to make it appear that check had come from Employer.

Apparently believing that the best defense is a good offense, a day after we served Attorney with the lawsuit we had filed, he filed a retaliatory lawsuit against the Client in a different county.   Attorney attempted to utilize every brow-beating, abusive litigation tactic he could think of to intimidate Client into settling on his terms.  She staunchly refused and we represented her all the way.  Eventually, Attorney realized Client was going nowhere and settled (confidentially) by giving Client every cent she was entitled to, interest on the amount she was owed, enough to cover her attorneys fees to us, and an additional amount for Client’s emotional distress.  (NOTE: While emotional distress damages are not typically recoverable in legal malpractice cases, we were able to recover a substantial amount because one of the reasons that client agreed to settle the case with her Employer was because the litigation was taking an emotional toll on her and she wanted to be free of the anxiety and stress that the litigation (and her financial situation) was causing her.  We argued that because freedom from emotional distress was a major component of her settlement, replacing it with emotional distress from the litigation (and wrongdoing of her attorney) should be compensable.  Additionally, the wrongful conduct of the attorney was so egregious and “over the top”, that we had a very legitimate claim for punitive damages had the case gone forward to trial.