Longtime Indianapolis asbestos litigation lawyer Linda George is accusing her former law partner in court filings of “hostile, abusive, vituperative, ungrateful and selfish conduct” and of stealing the firm’s assets and employees to open a competing law firm.
George made the allegations in federal court as part of her response and counterclaim to a lawsuit —Kathleen A. Farinas v. Linda George, 1:21-cv-00448 – filed by attorney Kathleen Farinas. The pair formed George & Farinas, a personal injury practice, in 2011. Although the firm’s website is still online, Farinas has since left to join Dean Omar Branham Shirley, a competing asbestos plaintiff’s firm based in Texas, and to open the Indianapolis office of Dean Omar Branham Shirley Farinas, where Farinas is listed as managing partner.
In her 81-page court filing, George levels several claims against her former law partner, including breach of fiduciary duty, theft, conversion, embezzlement, fraud, breach of contract, deceit, and unjust enrichment. She is seeking damages and treble damages along with a full accounting of Farinas’ activities “that have been against Linda’s interest” and the “imposition of a constructive trust on all profits, fees, and money Kathy has received through her wrongful actions.”
George is being represented by Riley Bennett Egloff LLP in Indianapolis. She is trying to move the dispute to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
Farinas, represented by Patrick Olmstead Law LLC in Greenwood, initiated the court battle by filing a complaint in Marion County Commercial Court Jan. 29. She asked the state court to dissolve George & Farinas, claiming the partners had not been able to reach a consensus and that George is “neither competent nor capable enough” to wind down the practice.
As part of her response, George denies what she described as Farinas’ “gratuitous, self-serving, false, unsupported, disparaging, and scandalous allegations.”
George claims George & Farinas was started with about $1.6 million of her money, her client base and her personal assets, including the intellectual property she developed of factual testimony and appellate case law, which is still used in the prosecution of asbestos cases. Farinas did not contribute either money or clients to the new firm, George contends.
She alleges she offered Farinas the opportunity to become a partner, mentored her and taught her how to litigate asbestos cases. However, Farinas began demanding more compensation, attempted to alter the partnership agreement to the disadvantage of George, belittled her and made it clear she was not welcome in court, according to the counterclaim.
George was dealing with health issues and limited mobility related to childhood polio but, she maintains, her work with her clients was unaffected. In May 2017, George “trusted Kathy so much” she gave Farinas her medical power of attorney.
Also in 2017, George moved to Palm Springs, California, believing the warm, dry climate would be better for her health. Farinas helped George set up an office in her new home so she could continue working at the firm.
George claims that starting in 2016, Farinas made overt attempts to get her to retire. According to the counterclaim, Farinas again tried to change the partnership agreement to include terms for a buyout. The counterclaim also says Farinas told a firm employee to change George’s Indiana law license to retired status and instructed the firm’s staff to omit and remove George’s name from appearances and pleadings in various lawsuits.
Farinas visited George in California in April 2019 and presented her with a retirement gift and card from the firm’s employees. George claims she had not retired and had to send an email to the staff clarifying she was still a practicing attorney.
The counterclaim alleges Farinas was holding back cases that belonged to the partnership and withholding George’s share of the fees and profits. Furthermore, the counterclaim accuses Farinas of manipulating the processing of the claims on behalf of the firm’s clients so that all $2 million in payments would go to her.
“At Kathy’s direction, (the firm’s) employees neglected certain cases and clients, especially if the fess from those cases or clients would go 100% to Linda under the terms of the Partnership Agreement,” the counterclaim states. “Kathy would also let certain (George and Farinas) cases sit without processing them at all so she could get the fees for those cases rather than bringing those fees into the partnership as contemplated by the Partnership Agreement.”
George claims that Farinas took cases for which the work had already been done and paid for by the firm and transferred them to the new firm, DOBS & Farinas. George also claims Farinas’ answers to George’s inquiries were dismissive, and that Farinas instructed the firm’s accountants and staff to ignore George’s requests for cases’ status, accounting and financial information.
“Kathy worked secretly for months to wrongfully transfer (George and Farinas’) cases to her new firm,” the counterclaim states. “She spent lavishly for the firm’s funds including providing Christmas bonuses which were not authorized by Linda, procuring expensive computer and technology upgrades as well as shredding documents in preparation for the surprise departure of Kathy and the other firm’s employees.”
Farinas made several allegations against George in the complaint she filed in the commercial court. In particular, she accused George of violating the Indiana Rules for the Admission and Discipline of Attorneys by not being actively engaged in the practice of law since 2016. Also, Farinas claimed George failed to declare certain income, namely pass-through funds, on her taxes.
George dismisses those accusations as “Kathy (seeking) to excuse and justify her unconscionable treatment of her partner, Linda, by blaming Linda.”
As part of her counterclaim, George asserts Farinas’ characterizations that she is incompetent and has a failing, impaired memory are defamatory and without verification.
“Kathy’s actions, false statements, and unsupported allegations are the most egregious breaches of fiduciary duty imaginable,” the counterclaim states.
According to the federal court docket, an initial pretrial conference has been scheduled for April 27.