Monday, April 9, 2012

Fee-splitting case remains unsettled

Dispute stems from malpractice suit

An attorney for one of two lawyers locked in a fee-splitting dispute wants the 11th District Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision last month that sends the case into arbitration.

In the meantime, attorney Michael Rossi also wants the appellate court to certify that a conflict exists so the Ohio Supreme Court could hear the case of attorney Roger Bauer, who is suing attorney Martin White for half of the record multi-million dollar judgment he earned in a 2010 malpractice case.

The decision by three appellate judges last month affirmed a lower court decision by Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos that allows the Ohio State Bar Association to settle the dispute.

''The law is well-established in Ohio that the sole avenue for resolution of legal fee disputes between lawyers in different firms is mediation and/or arbitration by a local bar association or the Ohio State Bar Association,'' appellate Judge Mary Jane Trapp wrote in her opinion.

But Bauer, through Rossi, claims that his agreement with White was nothing more than an oral contract and the case should be viewed that way. They want the case sent back to Kontos to be heard as a breach-of-contract case.

''The Bauer-White fee-sharing agreement was not in writing. There is no record evidence of their agreement to assume joint responsibility for management of the case. And there is no finding that the total fee was reasonable,'' Rossi wrote in the motion for reconsideration.

He also maintains there are conflicting decisions out of appellate courts that hear cases in Cuyahoga and Franklin counties. If a conflict is certified by the 11th District it would trigger an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court to sort out the issue.

Last June, Kontos sent the case to the Trumbull County Bar Association to resolve.

In July, the local bar sent the dispute to the state bar organization to resolve the matter, citing conflicts and that they cap fee disputes at $50,000.

Kontos pointed out in his decision that Bauer had no written agreement to split fees with White, who was one of the attorneys who won the $13.9 million verdict in the local malpractice case. White filed the motion with Kontos to have the case dismissed and settled by the bar.

After a jury decided the malpractice case, the record $13.9 million award was reduced to $9.7 million by virtue of a set off for $2.4 million that plaintiffs received for settling with co-defendants. The malpractice case is still being appealed.

The case involved an 11-year-old girl who along with her parents sued a doctor and won after suffering catastrophic medical problems when she was born.

Before the case was heard by a jury, the girl and her family settled for $6.5 million with another doctor, who since died, and a local hospital. The settlement remains with the local Probate Court until the fee-splitting case is resolved.

By Christopher Bobby, Staff reporter, The Tribune Chronicle,

Source: The Tribune Chronicle


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