Lawyers Convicted of Extortion in Collection of Their Legal Bill

_DSC4179 - Version 2As a lawyer/owner who has practiced law for 26 years, I learned a thing or two about how to run a law firm. While the practice of law qualifies as a profession, and for some a “calling”, it is also very much a business. The bottom line is that if you don’t get paid, you will not be in business very long.

That’s why most lawyers understand that it is usually necessary to get a retainer “up front”. Unlike a body shop who has your car and will not release it until they are paid, or a watch repair business who will hang on to your Rolex until they get your Visa card, lawyers sell “intellectual property”, an intangible asset that is in high demand.

However, researchers who study people who need a lawyer recognize that a person with a legal problem is most inclined to gratefully accept legal advice and willingly (perhaps not happyily) pay their lawyer when they feel the most pressure i.e. when they are overwhelmed with anxiety and stress and are desperate for someone to alleviate their legal or financial pain.

Many young lawyers, including myself, way back when, have learned hard lessons about collecting legal fees. Ironically, the worst clients to collect from are so-called “good friends”. While they swear they will pay you, they often do not and usually without any justification.

Recently two senior lawyers in Tennessee broke the cardinal rule about getting paid in advance, only to be accused of extortion when they attempted to collect $50,000 they said a client owed them.

Michelle Langlois hired lawyers Carrie Gasaway, wife of a longtime local Tennessee judge, and her partner Fletcher Long to be present at the reading of her father’s will, a legal service that would cost her $800.00.

After the reading of the will, Ms. Gasaway and Mr. Long advised Ms. Langlois to challenge the will, and asked her to sign a retainer agreement. They initially offered a contingency contract of 20% of the monies they recouped for her.

Ms. Langlois instead decided on a flat fee of $50,000 for all the legal services required. She provided the lawyers with a personal cheque for $50,000 but advised them they could not cash it until she sold some of the stocks she received from her inheritance.

Langlois later sold the stock and faxed a certified cheque for $50,000 to the lawyers with a plan to meet with them to give them the original cheque. But she cancelled the meeting and in short order, fired her lawyers who angrily demanded payment of their fee.

An email to Ms. Langlois from the lawyers read:

“While we really don’t feel like you are in much of a position to negotiate, we will accept $7,000 as a full settlement […] in the event the check is not good, you will only receive more criminal charges.”

Testimony at trial indicated that Gasaway and Long had taken funds from monies held in trust for another client to purchase real estate and needed Langlois to pay her bill so they could return the funds to their trust account.

In their zeal to collect their alleged fee, they made good on their threats to put her in jail and had her arrested for “theft of services”, a charge that was later dropped once the truth emerged about the lawyers’ collection methods.

Last week a jury found both lawyers guilty of extortion, a Class D felony with a sentencing range of two to 12 years with a maximum fine of $5,000.

Needless to say their legal careers are over. Attorney Long said he is considering changing his profession because it is “too stressful. He added:

“God has a plan for me, but it’s not to practice law… I think I have some marketable skills.”

Yesterday both attorneys had their licenses to practice law revoked pending a full discipline hearing. An inevitably unhappy ending for all concerned.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Political Correctness Leads to “Merry Christmas” Laws

GEO_edited-1Texas governor Rick Perry signed a new law in 2013 called the “Merry Christmas” law. The new law protects Christmas and other holidays in Texas’ public schools from legal challenges.

The law was initiated when Representative Dwayne Bohac learned that his son’s school had erected a “holiday” tree, as the word “Christmas” was banned in the school for fear of attracting litigation. Mr. Bohac remarked that the exclusion of any reference to Christmas at public schools was “political correctness run amok”.

The Christmas controversy, called the “War on Christmas” by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, has taken a variety of forms.

In 2005 the City of Boston erected a “holiday tree” that incensed the Nova Scotia farmer who supplied the tree to Boston. He said he would rather put the tree in a wood chipper than put up with misguided political correctness.

Nativity scenes were barred in public schools in New York in 2002, a position that prevailed when the public school authorities were sued.

In 2007 a public school in Ottawa caused alarm when the word “Christmas” was excised from the school choir’s rendition of “Silver Bells” and replaced with the word “festive”. A few years later another public school in Ontario cancelled their Christmas concert and replaced it with a winter craft fair and concert in February.

Major American big-box chain stores have also been subject to criticism. Sears, Home Depot, Kmart, Target, Walmart, and others who left out the word “Christmas” in their marketing material acceded to pressure from customers and Christian lobby groups to reinstate the name of the religious statutory holiday.

Meanwhile Texas has led the way for “Merry Christmas” laws in Alabama, Tennessee, and Missouri with bills awaiting enactment in several other American states.

As for me, I say both “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hannukkah”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

What Happened to the Russian Orphan Returned to Russia by His American Mother?

Remember the heart-crushing story of the Russian boy who was adopted by a woman in Tennessee, only to be put on an airplane bound for Russia, with a note that said the boy was a violent psychopath and she didn’t want him anymore?

I do, and I also remember thinking I had never heard of such a heartless act. Recently, I followed up on this story to see what happened to the little boy in this heart-wrenching story.

You may recall that Torry Hansen from Shelbyville adopted Arytom Savelyev, who she renamed Justin Hansen, from a Russian orphanage. In April of 2010 her mother, Nancy Hansen, delivered 7 year-old Arytom to the airport for a flight back to Moscow. The Hansens’ conduct spurred international anger, but no criminal charges were ever pursued.

A month later Washington adoption agency, the World Association for Children and Parents, filed a civil lawsuit against the Hansens for child support and sought to be appointed as temporary guardians of the young boy. They became involved out of frustration that no one was investigating the abandonment and endangerment of Arytom.

Local officials said there was no crime committed in their jurisdiction and therefore, no criminal charges. A Russian Court later pronounced an order that Ms. Hansen pay $2500.00 a month in child support.

The civil lawsuit brought by the adoption agency came to light when Judge Lee Russell in Tennessee ruled in November 2011 that the media could have access to the trial proceedings after the Hansons’ attorney tried to obtain an order barring the media and requesting a sealing order.

The trial is scheduled for May 2010. Meanwhile, Arytom was without a stable home until recently. He is now living with his new foster mother, teacher Vera Yegorova and her 16 other foster children under the auspices of SOS Children’s Villages. The Villages are in 133 countries and began in Austria in 1949.

His mother reports he is now doing well in school and has adapted to his new home and siblings. Ms. Yegorova learned of Arytom’s plight through the media noting that her foster son has never mentioned the traumatic events to her or acknowledged that he speaks English.

After this incident Russian barred American adoptions and has only just recently opened the door again for Americans to adopt Russian orphans.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang