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COA: Attorney entitled to lien on former client's file

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An attorney doesn’t have to produce documentation of the amount of money a former client owes in order to have a valid retaining lien, ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Gary attorney Douglas Grimes appealed the denial of his verified motion to quash subpoena duces tecum in a medical malpractice action filed by Victoria Crockrom. Crockrom originally hired Grimes as her attorney in the action and he collected certain medical records and put them in her file. He later withdrew as her counsel and Crockrom’s new attorney, Bessie Davis, requested the medical records from Grimes as she was having difficulty obtaining the same documents.

Grimes said he would give her the documents if Crockrom paid the attorney fees she owed him. He said he claimed a retaining lien in the file and documents since Crockrom hadn’t paid.

The trial court denied Grimes motion to quash the subpoena and ordered him to produce the record. At that point, Crockrom still hadn’t paid the attorney fees owed to Grimes.

In Douglas M. Grimes v. Victoria Crockrom, et al., No. 45A03-1008-CT-491, the Court of Appeals, citing Bennett v. NSR Inc., 553 N.E.2d 881, 882 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990), found the trial court erred when it ordered him to produce the medical records without also providing security for the payment of attorney fees. Crockrom disputed the amount of fees Grimes claimed she owed and argued that the lack of any documentation or itemization showing the amount she owed rendered Grimes’ retaining lien invalid.

The judges rejected her argument, saying that a common law retaining lien on records in possession of an attorney arises on rendition of services by the attorney. There’s no legal authority tying the validity of a retaining lien to the provision of an itemized bill to the client, wrote Judge Edward Najam.

“Indeed, a retaining lien is complete and effective without notice to anyone,” he wrote. “And the reasonableness of a fee, as reflected by an attorney’s lien, is irrelevant to the determination of whether the lien has been established.”

The judges also held that Crockrom’s contract with Grimes doesn’t require him to release the medical records even though she hasn’t paid. There’s no provision in the contract that excludes a retaining lien or anything else in it that would preclude one.

The appellate court remanded with instructions to determine the amount of attorney fees owed to Grimes and then order Crockrom to provide security for the payment of the attorney fees in the amount of the fees owed.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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