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Attorney not entitled to prejudgment interest

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A southern Indiana lawyer who entered into an agreement with another attorney to handle some of his cases due to his suspension from practice is not entitled to prejudgment interest on his portion of a client fee, the Indiana Court of Appeals held.

J. Michael Kummerer was arrested in 2007 and charged with possessing cocaine and aiding, inducing or causing dealing in cocaine. He was suspended for six-months by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission and entered into an agreement with C. Richard Marshall for Marshall to handle four of Kummerer’s contingency-fee cases.

Their agreement called for the attorneys to share equally in any fee recovered without a trial. At issue is a case that settled during mediation – the parties agreed to a compromise fee with the client of $275,000. Marshall paid himself a total of $137,500. After the settlement, Marshall tried to get Kummerer to change their agreement so that he would receive 90 percent and Kummerer would get just 10 percent. Marshall believed paying Kummerer the 50 percent would violate the proportionality provision of Rule 1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Marshall claimed that he had done most of the work on the case.

Kummerer sued Marshall, alleging he had been defrauded. Marshall claimed Kummerer misrepresented the amount of work he had completed on the case. Marshall moved to have the disputed money put in an account with the clerk’s office so it could earn interest, but Kummerer objected. Marshall left the funds in his IOLTA account.

The trial court found no fraud and that Kummerer’s work on the case justified the contract. The trial judge looked at Rule 1.5 and found that the equal fee split was a reasonable forecast of the work that each attorney would perform on the case. Kummerer was awarded $137,500, but no prejudgment interest. He then filed a motion to correct errors, claiming the trial court needed to make special findings regarding whether the contract damages were determined by simple mathematical calculations when deciding to deny prejudgment interest. The trial court denied this motion.

The Court of Appeals affirmed because the trial court had to determine whether the two attorneys’ forecast of the amount of each work was reasonable. The judge had to consider the eight factors in Rule 1.5(a) to do so. That determination involved the court’s judgment in order to assess the damages, so prejudgment interest was not appropriate, Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.

The appellate court also found that the trial court did make specific findings of fact that the fee division was reasonable under Rule 1.5 for the circumstances of this case. The trial court had to exercise its judgment in determining damages and the calculations of those damages were not merely a simple mathematical evaluation, she wrote.  

 

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  1. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  3. Don't believe me, listen to Pacino: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6bC9w9cH-M

  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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