Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lawyers Take Money, Don't Take Responsibility

Two prominent figures in the Don Siegelman story are fighting legal battles of their own, with both cases involving fees paid to lawyers who allegedly then did little or no work.

That's an issue we are intimately familiar with here at Legal Schnauzer. And it helps explain why a national reform movement called JAIL 4 Judges has grabbed a foothold.

Alabama attorney Jill Simpson, the whistleblower who testified under oath that Republican operatives were behind the Siegelman prosecution, has filed a complaint with the Alabama State Bar against lawyer Stephen Glassroth.

Simpson hired Glassroth to represent her in a tax matter, but he failed to take action on her behalf. The Alabama State Bar suspended Glassroth's license when he failed to answer Simpson's complaint.

Glassroth perhaps is best known as the attorney who filed the original complaint to force former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building.

Former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White also has problems with a lawyer. White recently fired his lawyer and said he is having trouble finding a new one because of the volume of public-corruption cases in Birmingham.

(That's good to know; the Bush economy might be imploding, but by golly, criminal defense lawyers are doing a gold-rush business.)

White was convicted in January on corruption charges, but the conviction was voided and a new trial granted. White's wife stated in an affidavit that federal prosecutors targeted him after he refused to provide false testimony against Siegelman.

According to court documents, White said he had paid lawyer Walter Braswell an upfront fee, but Braswell failed to filed a notice of appearance and missed a deadline for filing a brief. After firing Braswell, White eventually got his money back.

I have considerable empathy for Simpson and White because I have been down a similar road.

When my neighbor (Mike McGarity) and his corrupt lawyer (Bill Swatek) filed a fraudulent lawsuit against me, I hired Jesse P. Evans III to defend me. Evans then was with the Birmingham firm of Adams & Reese/Lange Simpson, and he assigned most of the work to an associate Michael Odom. Evans and Odom since have both left for the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter.

Evans and Odom filed two motions for summary judgment and a number of other documents on my behalf. But they did not truly represent my best interest, even though I paid them about $12,000.

For example, they refused to file a counterclaim on my behalf, even though Evans notes from my initial meeting with him showed a notation about a counterclaim. He had immediately filed a counterclaim in a similar property-related dispute in Shelby County, but the opposing counsel in that case was not named William E. Swatek and did not have family ties to the Alabama Republican Party.

When Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner twice denied properly executed and supported Motions for Summary Judgment (MSJ) when the other party did not respond--an MSJ under such circumstances must be granted--Evans and Odom had to know Joiner was cheating me. But they did nothing about it.

They filed no interlocutory appeal to overrule Joiner's unlawful findings. They filed no Motion to Recuse to get a corrupt judge off my case. When I fired them and demanded my money back, they refused.

Evans and Odom, best I can tell, generally have a good reputation. Evans even has written a book about property law in Alabama. So why did they mishandle my case? Evidence suggests that they sold their client down the river in order to placate a judge they knew was corrupt.

My second attorney, a solo practitioner named Richard Poff, appears to have done pretty much the same thing. I paid him $4,500 up front, and he did virtually nothing on my case. When I fired him and demanded a refund, he, too, refused.

Like Simpson, I am dealing with the Alabama State Bar over the actions and inactions of my attorneys. I'm pleased to see that the bar seems to be taking appropriate action in the Simpson matter. I've seen no evidence, so far, that they will hold Evans and Odom accountable, and I still have time to file a complaint against Poff.

Much more is coming here at Legal Schnauzer about Evans, Odom, and Poff, and their many failings in my case.

Interestingly, both Evans and Poff were going through ugly divorces at roughly the same time they were representing me. Did that have an impact on how they handled my case, considering that both were about to take serious financial hits in family court?

We will be examining that question, along with details from their rather juicy divorce cases.

Court records indicate that both Evans and Poff are trying to get reductions in payments they owe through their divorce settlements. (You ladies should enjoy reading about the legal reasoning these two gentlemen use in an effort to get off the financial hook to their ex-wives and children.)

For good measure, Poff is engaged in an intriguing case involving bankruptcy court and charges of legal malpractice. We will dive into that situation with both feet.

You will learn about the steps some lawyers will take to avoid accountability--and the steps the justice system will take to protect them.

We also will be looking at one of the most fundamental problems of our legal system--the fact that law is a self-regulating profession.

If you--like Jill Simpson, Gary White, and me--have problems getting your money's worth from an attorney, how is your complaint likely to be handled? It will be handled by another lawyer.

It's a classic "fox guarding the hen house" situation, and that explains much of what is wrong with American justice.

It also explains why an organization like Jail 4 Judges came into being and has developed a nationwide following. If lawyers effectively policed themselves, a movement like J.A.I.L., with its focus on removing the immunity that protects judges from most lawsuits, probably would have never happened.

But lawyers have proven that they are incapable of policing themselves. That's why anyone who takes a reasonably objective look at the J.A.I.L. movement is likely to say, "You know, these folks have a point."


Anonymous said...

Do you still have a legal-malpractice case pending on Poff? You're dead right about the "fox guarding the hen house". Even if you catch a lawyer in a flat out blunder or lie--they say it doesn't matter because it would not have made a difference or "no harm". No telling how many lives Poff has destroyed and the Bar won't do anything.

legalschnauzer said...

My case was dismissed without prejudice, so it can be brought again. The judge screwed me, and Poff is hiding behind the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court is screwing big time with another former Poff client who has filed a legal malpractice claim. I'm trying to keep up with that and plan to post about it. Have you had experiences with Poff. If you feel comfortable doing it, shoot me a private e-mail. Would like to know what happened with you.