Drain orders attorney fees put in escrow Leaves fate of firm name up to Potts

By John Minnis

Legal News

In his ongoing dispute with his former law firm, Lawrence Charfoos and his attorney, Marvin Shwedel, went before Wayne County Circuit Judge Gershwin Drain on Friday seeking some $100,000 in attorney's fees resulting from a favorable ruling in a case Charfoos began while working for Charfoos & Christensen.

When he formed his own firm, Charfoos, Giovan and Birach, Charfoos continued as the plaintiff's attorney in the case. In December 2009, he won a favorable verdict and an undisclosed money judgment for his client.

Charfoos & Christensen filed attorney's fees and cost liens.

Shwedel did not dispute some $8,446 in a cost lien to Charfoos & Christensen, but he argued that his client was due all or most of the attorney's fees in the case since he did all the work.

Senior shareholder David Christensen, representing his firm before Judge Drain, argued that how much work Charfoos did on the case and how much work another attorney at the firm did on the case is in dispute.

In January, Charfoos filed suit against his former employer, Charfoos & Christensen, before Judge Wendy L. Potts in Oakland County Circuit Court demanding some $500,000 in unpaid "referral fees" owed him and an order that Charfoos & Christensen stop using "Charfoos" in the firm's name.

"Judge Potts already has this issue," Christensen told Judge Drain. "I think what you ought to do is decline the opportunity of looking at 20 or 30 years of the firm's history."

"I've read the complaint in Oakland County," Drain responded. "I've seen this happen on a number of occasions by people leaving law firms. ... This kind of dispute comes up fairly often. I made a call once in a case like this and it didn't come out well. We have two good lawyers here, Mr. Christensen and Mr. Charfoos, at the top of their game.

"What I think what you should do is resolve this matter among yourselves."

"This is a simple matter," Shwedel said. "This is not complex. I don't want Mr. Christensen to complicate this with 20 or 30 years of history."

When pressed, Christensen finally opined that 90 percent of the attorney's fees in dispute belong to Charfoos.

Judge Drain denied the motion, saying he would let Judge Potts make the call.

"She is going to look into the history of the firm," he said. "She can deal with the relationship of the parties and look into the attorney's fees."

Christensen suggested the fees be put in escrow, but Shwedel objected, stating Charfoos needed the money because he is starting his own law firm.

Judge Drain ordered the entire sum of $100,000 put in escrow.

"I'm not going to argue anymore about it," he said. "Judge Potts can argue it."

Published: Mon, Mar 22, 2010

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