Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Reasonableness of attorneys fees

I had a misdemeanor traffic case against me where I signed a ithacadude2305/23/17
That actually sounds very reasonable for pre-trial and trial mrtor05/23/17
Or the client gets remanded and then sentenced to jail and c adamb05/24/17
honest question: were you guilty? If so, then leave it be. dingbat05/23/17
I concur with dingbat's advice. The fees also sound reasonab wolfman05/23/17
to clarify there was no trial, just a motion to suppress. ithacadude2305/23/17
The appellate courts are very reluctant to overturn lower co mrtor05/23/17
The error presented to the appellate court is a legal error, ithacadude2305/23/17
Ah, details. $5k for a motion to suppress does seem excessiv mrtor05/23/17
Yeah - most suppression motions for DWI are pre-written and adamb05/24/17
Did he send you an itemized bill? $5,000 seems like a lot fo fettywap05/23/17
In NJ, traffic offenses not considered criminal offenses, th anothernjlawyer05/23/17
I got an itemized bill but it is very confusing, as in billi ithacadude2305/23/17
billing you for correcting the bill? Billing you for revers dingbat05/23/17
In NY, retaining a top DWI attorney from arraignment through adamb05/24/17
I'm getting the feeling this guy didn't retain anyone even c retard05/25/17
I can't imagine an itemized bill for that much either. Might fettywap05/23/17
Sounds shady adamb05/23/17
It's interesting because my malpractice insure doesn't allow thirdtierlaw05/23/17
Because malpractice is always the counterclaim. And then the retard05/25/17
I understand why. I could have stated it better. I meant tha thirdtierlaw05/25/17
Details would help. What state? In NY, you can contest t adamb05/23/17
There were no updates until 2 months after the representatio ithacadude2305/24/17
The info you have provided is just so vague. For example, on adamb05/24/17
Your biggest problem is that the firm couldn't care less if ruralattorney05/24/17
It is vague because I do not want to lose anonymity. The qu ithacadude2305/24/17
A few more details would not be too risky unless the case is adamb05/24/17
Another thing I wanted to emphasize and why I am having this ithacadude2305/24/17
Why did MADD testify at your hearing? Could you summarize adamb05/24/17
ok, that's a dumb mistake, but, is there a reasonable chance dingbat05/24/17
I'm scratching my head about this as well. Why didn't the pr thirdtierlaw05/24/17
"Conditional guilty plea" like you finish a program and then adamb05/24/17
...as you can see, this topic has struck a nerve. I hated it adamb05/24/17
It was a conditional guilty plea with no conditions and was ithacadude2305/24/17
You're entitled to a competent defense. It may not make much thirdtierlaw05/24/17
At this point I am not yet planning to be a convicted crimin ithacadude2305/25/17
I think it's a stretch to say that your chances are ever hig retard05/25/17
Not pro se, with a real lawyer this time (third time is the ithacadude2305/25/17
Not pro se, with a real lawyer this time (third time is the ithacadude2305/25/17
I'm not sure you understand how the appellate levels work. T thirdtierlaw05/25/17
I would pay the 2.5k (so as to get the small claim dismissed onehell05/24/17
If there is a judgment against me, I plan to appeal. What r ithacadude2305/24/17
For one thing, judgments can show up on a credit report. For onehell05/24/17
Could you summarize, very generally, the timeline of the rep adamb05/24/17
The timeline was 5 months. This is for court of record, I h ithacadude2305/24/17
something doesn't add up, and I'm pretty sure that we won't dingbat05/25/17
Agreed adamb05/26/17
Yes, you seem like an extremely high maintenance client over fettywap05/25/17
misdemeanor traffic cases usually mean injury to a person, d dingbat05/26/17
I went through all the responses and am trying to make a dec ithacadude2306/09/17
Does anyone have any comments? ithacadude2306/14/17

ithacadude23 (May 23, 2017 - 9:19 am)

I had a misdemeanor traffic case against me where I signed a mixed fee agreement with the attorney. 2,500 covers the first ten hours and then additional hours are at 260. The attorney told me not to worry and said that the 2,500 should well cover my case. The service was both good and bad the motion to suppress was well written I thought but I was advised to withdraw my case based on an incorrect case (the case only applied to felonies, not misdemeanors), based on non-precedential case, etc. During the trial the attorney inadvertently played an audio file that was strongly prejudicial to me. After the trial my case I abandoned and I had to personally file post-trial motion. My final bill was a gross 11k, with a 6k dscount (net of 5k) which was given because according to the associate attorney 11k was not reasonable. He since left the firm. I tried to talk to firm owner about the fees but instead of talking he sued me for 2.5k in small claims court. I wanted to see if people had opinions about the best way to proceed, as I do not want to harm anyone in the process, but believe that I was overbilled without my knowledge and authorization, so I do not think it is fair for me to pay the other 2.5k. Thank you.

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mrtor (May 23, 2017 - 9:50 am)

That actually sounds very reasonable for pre-trial and trial work. I have heard of attorneys charging much higher fees to take a case through trial. It sounds like he did not regularly bill you, which is always a preferred practice, but he was upfront about fees and you agreed to the representation.

Unfortunately, having to pay the balance after losing a case can leave a sour taste in your mouth. This is why many criminal attorneys demand retainers up front. Too many clients feel they were ripped off because justice was served.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 11:04 am)

Or the client gets remanded and then sentenced to jail and cannot access any funds. That's why you gotta clean them out before trial begins.

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dingbat (May 23, 2017 - 9:54 am)

honest question: were you guilty?
If so, then leave it be.

If no, you could make empty threats (like a bar complaint; you'll fail) or kick up a storm. Or, more realistically, talk to the attorney and offer a settlement, like paying $2000 on the spot if he forgives the rest. In a situation like this, they'll probably take the hit to see the back of you.
(on the other hand, they may feel they're already giving you a break by cutting the bill to $5k)

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wolfman (May 23, 2017 - 10:25 am)

I concur with dingbat's advice. The fees also sound reasonable to me. And yes, this is why most attorneys demand high upfront retainers in criminal and other non-contingency cases: people just won't pay anything after, especially if the case is a loser.

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ithacadude23 (May 23, 2017 - 10:39 am)

to clarify there was no trial, just a motion to suppress.

the case is in the court of appeals and will probably be won now, but I feel that the reason it has to be in the case of appeals is the oversights made by the attorney.

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mrtor (May 23, 2017 - 10:51 am)

The appellate courts are very reluctant to overturn lower court rulings, especially based upon innocent or inadvertent error. It sounds like your attorney goofed up. It happens all of the time. While we don't have enough facts, it sounds like you accidentally incriminated yourself through your lawyer playing that audio clip. Appellate courts are not going to be particularly sympathetic to that.

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ithacadude23 (May 23, 2017 - 10:56 am)

The error presented to the appellate court is a legal error, not an innocent error, but I feel that the playing of the clip may have been malpractice. The appeal petition has been granted and hearing on the merits has been scheduled. State AG withdrew and kicked the case back to the county and the prosecuting attorney who does not have any appellate experience.

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mrtor (May 23, 2017 - 12:10 pm)

Ah, details. $5k for a motion to suppress does seem excessive, absent extenuating circumstances.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 11:29 am)

Yeah - most suppression motions for DWI are pre-written and boilerlate - the attorney just has to apply the established law to the facts of the particular case. While I looked like I spent a lot of time on DWI suppression motions, they usually took me less than an hour, and that is assuming that I had to draft a few paragraphs with the facts. Supression motions are boilerplate because new case law, relevant to the big picture suppression issues, so rarely happens. Most suppression motions are won or lost at the actual hearing based on the testimony.

As a side note: it is harder to argue malpractice when the attorney played this mysterious "damaging" tape (what did you say?) at the hearing because most appellate courts will say that the judge is knowledgable enough to disregard the mistake and to issue an unbiased ruling based on the correct law...unless your attorney played damaging evidence that the prosecution and the court was not aware of. Divulging damaging evidence, not previously heard by the people or the court, is definitely closer to "malpractice" territory. Otherwise, as others have noted, appellate courts are very deferential to the lower court discretionary rulings and credibility findings.

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fettywap (May 23, 2017 - 11:23 am)

Did he send you an itemized bill? $5,000 seems like a lot for a simple misdemeanor to me, but it may not be if you were a difficult client and he kept detailed records of his work. If you're just trying to argue the quality of work wasn't very good, you will probably lose.

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anothernjlawyer (May 23, 2017 - 11:41 am)

In NJ, traffic offenses not considered criminal offenses, though the procedure is basically the same. I can't imagine billing anyone 5K for any traffic offense, trial or not, except for possibly a second or subsequent DWI offense.

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ithacadude23 (May 23, 2017 - 11:58 am)

I got an itemized bill but it is very confusing, as in billing me for correcting the bill one month after the representation concluded and then reversing it. This law firm is a bit shady perhaps. They have 37 lawsuits against former clients for unpaid fees, and a censure by the bar for deceptive fee agreements and unreasonable fees.

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dingbat (May 23, 2017 - 5:53 pm)

billing you for correcting the bill? Billing you for reversing the bill?
F*ck them, send a copy of the bill to the state bar association and ask them if it's reasonable or if you should file a complaint.

If the state bar association says it's reasonable, pay up. If they say you should file a complaint, file a complaint, and keep a hold of the letter telling you to do so as prima facie evidence of improper billing

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 11:32 am)

In NY, retaining a top DWI attorney from arraignment through trial can run $20k easily - not including the costs of medical and IDTU experts.

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retard (May 25, 2017 - 6:52 am)

I'm getting the feeling this guy didn't retain anyone even close to the top attorney.

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fettywap (May 23, 2017 - 12:05 pm)

I can't imagine an itemized bill for that much either. Might as well go to court and fight it. Only thing is, you could get ordered to pay a bit more in attorney fees if you lose.

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adamb (May 23, 2017 - 5:07 pm)

Sounds shady

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thirdtierlaw (May 23, 2017 - 5:41 pm)

It's interesting because my malpractice insure doesn't allow me to sue clients for lack of payment. Not that I'd ever actually do that.

Seems awfully high for a misdemeanor. Were they providing you bills each month?

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retard (May 25, 2017 - 6:53 am)

Because malpractice is always the counterclaim. And then they have to get involved.

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thirdtierlaw (May 25, 2017 - 8:15 am)

I understand why. I could have stated it better. I meant that it is interesting that they've sued so many previous clients due to many malpractice insurance policies not allowing it.

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adamb (May 23, 2017 - 6:48 pm)

Details would help.

What state? In NY, you can contest the bill in arbitration as a matter of law. Based on the limited info here, especially the crazy expensive bill for one hearing, the weird sounding bill itself, the "discount," and the history of suing clients for payment dozens of times (which is very odd in criminal law), you might have a good case. Also, if he billed that much and provided ineffective assistance of counsel as a matter of state law (research if he made plain error on established law) then your case is even stronger for both arbitration and/or a bar complaint.

Get on google.

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ithacadude23 (May 24, 2017 - 8:34 am)

There were no updates until 2 months after the representation ended - update in the form of a final bill. In terms of research, I was able to find mistakes during the consultation process and they never made it to any filing or hearing. The main issue about effective assistance of counsel that could have harmed me could be inadvertently playing the wrong file during the motion hearing which could have prejudiced the judge.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 10:57 am)

The info you have provided is just so vague. For example, one of your prior responses implied that the intermediate appellate court is reversing due to legal error. If this error was caused or ignored by your attorney (not just a judge making an erroneous ruling) that would play in your favor for avoiding the rest of this inflated bill.

Make sure you respond to the small claims case within the time limits - and use real proof from the bill, the retainer agreement, and the record from your case to respond to the small claims complaint by showing that you're intelligent, you did your homework, you actually are paying attention to the details, and the pursuit of the $2,500 may be more time, trouble, and risk than it is worth.

Edit: also say in your response to the complaint that this firm has been censured before for unreasonable fees. That does not happen often, at least in NY, so it will stand out to the judge or hearing officer and persuade them that you're not just a deadbeat and that this law firm takes advantage of clients

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ruralattorney (May 24, 2017 - 10:42 am)

Your biggest problem is that the firm couldn't care less if you make a bar complaint against the attorney since the attorney has left the firm.

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ithacadude23 (May 24, 2017 - 11:28 am)

It is vague because I do not want to lose anonymity. The question on appeal is a legal issue, but also my attorney messed up in my opinion, which was not claimed for an appeal. If I win the case on the legal issue, it is probably dismissed, but if I claim attorney mistake there could just be a new trial. Overall, the guy is relatively new, a couple of years out of law school, got this job with the firm and moved on to a less bottom feeding opportunity. He was salaried. So I feel bad harming him in the process, but also do not feel like dishing out 3k because I like him.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 11:43 am)

A few more details would not be too risky unless the case is unusual -- most DWIs have recurring facts and issues.

Likewise, it really would help to go into more detail about what the attorney played that was so damaging and whether this was prosecution evidence or a recording that the defense attorney was not supposed to play at all (since prosecution evidence means that the judge already would've heard the tapes and watched the videos since this presumably would be part of their evidence for the supprssion hearing and the case in chief). There only are a few suppression issues that could arise in a minor DWI case, unless the facts are extraordinary, so a little more detail will not out you.

Also - it seems like you pled guilty. In NY, at least, that severly limits the arguments that you can make on appeal, especially if you executed a valid waiver of appeal. Generally, you only can appeal the validity of the guilty plea. Even without a valid WRA, suppression issues generally cannot be raised on appeal if you pled guilty.

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ithacadude23 (May 24, 2017 - 11:52 am)

Another thing I wanted to emphasize and why I am having this problem that 2.5k was quoted and no updates were provided. The attorney played the most damaging portion of the 911 tape which he was not supposed to play and did not have to play because he did not have reception and used prosecutor's materials, which may have been organized differently.. The suppression is based on the fact that officers never saw me drive or in the vehicle at all. Perhaps the judge read and heard everything, but it did not look like that from his opinion, looked like he was clueless to everything but MADD. I pled conditional guilty plea which evaporates if I am successful on appeal.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 1:58 pm)

Why did MADD testify at your hearing?

Could you summarize, very generally, the timeline of the representation and the billing? For example, did the firm represent you at the arraignment? Did they continue for a year or longer? Where did the first 10 hours of the retainer go? Why did this enormous bill appear only months after the firm had lost the suppression hearing?

By the way, before I learned how to avoid my few delinquent clients, I also used to tell them that they owed me whatever they owed plus the interest/penalties, clearly explained in bold in the retainer agreement, then I'd offer to cut them a break if they paid, say, $2k instead of $3k plus forgiving the continuing accruing interest on the remainder.

The basic strategy was to get anything more than zero and then to call it a day. However, that only happened in a few early cases, before I modified my payment system, when I started a hearing or trial without yet receiving the full hearing/trial fee (in those cases, I'd start if they provided half of the payment on the first day). When I sent demand letters to collect a remainder, 1) I only did so in cases where my client won, as stiffing your attorney after he wins is d*ck. Furthermore, I followed the pattern of most reputable criminal attorneys who charge flat rates for representation at the common stages of a progressing case. So, if they called me at 8pm to try to argue for bail at a felony arraignment, I had a flat fee that increased with the severity of the charge. I had a general pretrial representation fee, the most common one that I collected, as most defendants and families came up with money for legal fees sometime after arraignments and after a few court dates where the only plea offer is for incarceration -- hiring a new attorney often motivated the ADA to discount the plea offer to make it look like the defense attorney was negotiating successfully, and thus to inspire confidence in the defendant that the plea was the lowest bargain basement offer (unless the offense was heinous). Pretrial representation covered the initial consults and investigation, plea negotation, and motions.

Once motions were decided, the client had to cough up the hearing/trial fee, which usually was the equivalent of a nonrefundable deposit, which I would calculate -- within the initial retainer agreement -- based on the amount of prep needed and the approximate length of the trial. For example, $5k for a DWI trial with jury selection and seven witnesses total. Or $15k for an assault 1 case where jury selection would take at least three days due to press coverage and the availability of additional preemptory strikes.

The "deposit" usually covered either the first three days or the first five days of H&T, which started on the day that the case got "sent out" -- even if the judge only did minor rulings on motions in limine and went over schduling. After the three or five day limit, I charged $1200 per day, which I required by Friday of each week.

I made my displeasure known to those clients who fell behind, which would motivate the BS artists (no one wants to demotivate an attorney whom they've seen provide strong, well-prepared representation by untruthfully pleading poverty). Even with clients who got convicted, I would present their family with the remainder of the bill right away, regardless of tears for a remanded felon awaiting sentencing...because I knew that they would pay me before the sentencing, again to avoid a dispute with me before the iudge makes a momentous decision (probation? One year? Eight years? Twenty-five years? Some of the sentencing ranges are crazy with how little and then how much a judge can order for the sentence, which in our state is a discretionary decision that is virtually unreviewable, or, more accurately, the appellate courts choose not to second guess sentences except where extreme abuse of discretion occurred.

So, you can see in great detail that criminal attorneys worth their salt generally charge fees similar to the above structure (sometimes with reasonable per appearance fees for routine court dates). All criminal attorneys bill at a poi t where the client and the family is motivated to pay...not two months after a guilty plea.

Charging $11k based on shady hourly billing two months after a guilty plea sounds all wrong.

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dingbat (May 24, 2017 - 2:00 pm)

ok, that's a dumb mistake, but, is there a reasonable chance the prosecutor would have played other parts of the 911 tape if your attorney hadn't?
Realistically, if your entire argument against the attorney (not the appeal, the attorney) is that he played the wrong segment of a recording that the prosecutors had access to in front of a judge (presumably for admissibility purpose), then that's a BS argument

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thirdtierlaw (May 24, 2017 - 4:39 pm)

I'm scratching my head about this as well. Why didn't the prosecutor play that portion of the tape if it was so prejudicial against his case? He also said that the judge didn't even reference that piece of evidence.

Maybe the attorney made a mistake. But it is quite possibly a "harmless error." Clients sometimes believe pieces of evidence are much more important than they actually are. Unless the error was playing a portion of the tape that was previously ruled suppressed.

I'm more intrigued by the claim that the officer didn't see him operating the vehicle. There is obviously much more to this story.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 1:12 pm)

"Conditional guilty plea" like you finish a program and then you get a repleader to a non-criminal violation?

If it is something like that, then the issues that I raised above still apply regardless -- unless your attorney specifically negotiated a guilty plea under the specific condition that you can appeal the suppression ruling.

From the gist of the facts, it actually sounds like you had a good reasonable doubt defense. I once won a dwi trial where operation and identity were impossible to contest, as the cops stopped the driver as he idled the car through a taped-off crime scene, then blew a 0.186 three yours *after* the cops stopped him! And I did it without calling an expert witness (early client with no money for an expert). Your case sounds pretty good -- but I assume that the erroneously played 911 tape contained info establishing either your identity and/or the time that your vehicle was being operated.

(If I am on the right track, you are correct that the defense attorney f*cked up hugely and that he was grossly unprepared if he did not even have his own copies of the evidence and exhibits.)

FYI the most that I ever charged for a DWI case was $8500 -- and that included a hardship hearing (20 minutes to plead for a conditional license), omnibus motion, speedy trial motion after two years of the people not being ready for one reason or another, and finally the pretrial hearing, which in NYC directly preceeds the start of jury selection. The hearing/trial process lasted five full days 9:30 - 5:00 every day (plus all of my prep and prepping my client and his witness, a passenger).

Edit: granted my rates were lower at the beginning of my solo practice and lower than other more famous attorneys but my rate was not unreasonably low -- whereas your attorney's firm sounds like it has a habit of bilking ignorant clients for too much money with unreasonable pricing and billing practices. $11k only should have been a real number if the attorneys appeared at a dozen court dates and then went to trial. Filing a boilerplate motion and sending a newb to a hearing is worth $11k only to con artists.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 1:24 pm)

...as you can see, this topic has struck a nerve. I hated it when clients came to me after 1) getting bilked by a crappy attorney who did no work but charged a premium rate, and 2) becoming disillusioned with defense attorneys and less willing to spend even a reasonable sum.

A bad criminal attorney, even if he acts nice at court dates, really hurts defendants, courts, and even other attorneys who try to make a living putting in time and hard work. The less defendants believe that their retainers go towards real advocacy, the more defendants will try to plead poverty to get a free attorney. After all, if the $11k attorney, arguing a winnable case, provides no better quality of service than the public defender, why would anyone ever pay if they can find a way to plead poverty. If a D is going to get convicted due to poor advocacy, he should at least not have to pay an exhorbitant sum for said crappy advocacy.

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ithacadude23 (May 24, 2017 - 2:37 pm)

It was a conditional guilty plea with no conditions and was permitted by both the state and the judge. Ultimately, I believe the lawyer did a good effort to try to help me but he was also limited by revenue scheme of the firm, probably very tight hours and used to bsing his way out since it had always worked. Essentially a good guy trying to make the best of his boiler room employer and who made a couple of gruesome mistakes(and he knew to cover his ass with the discount so it does not stick out too much). The firm sues like 5 people on the same court date for fees, I talked to a couple and they said they were charged 10k for no work, never saw their attorney but after losing in the small claims (because there is a contract they signed and a time sheet) they just give up. So I want to try to figure out a way to get the lawsuit dismissed without involving the bar or legal malpractice claims which will be on his record for the entirety of his legal career. I really appreciate the feedback and may be able to provide some more details privately.

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thirdtierlaw (May 24, 2017 - 5:03 pm)

You're entitled to a competent defense. It may not make much sense to raise a PCR issue because as you said above, that just gets you another trial.

I've lost trials in the past and quite honestly I would not be offended if people filed for PCR. Maybe in misdemeanor cases where the PCR issue won't even appear on a judge's desk until after the underlying sentence is just about served. But if I messed up somewhere in a major felony case, then they should file for PCR. I don't want people rotting in jail for a mistake I made.

Malpractice claim, you may have one, maybe not. They are extremely hard to win and malpractice insurance firms know this. Convicted criminals do not play well for juries.

As for the billing, a client should never be surprised when they get hit with a bill. Especially a client that they have represented for a period of time. 11k sounds ridiculously high for misdemeanor DUI. Granted legal fees are much lower in my State than many others, but I charge a flat fee of $2,000 for a DUI 1 without injury or property damage. As Adamb mentioned above, there are only a few suppression issues that really exist for DUIs. They should not be reinventing the wheel at your expense.

It's also intriguing to me that he withdrew your motion to suppress because he cited the wrong caselaw. He should have just slashed that whole bill right there. Honestly, unless the case was specific in saying, "THIS ABSOLUTELY IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS SHALL BE APPLIED TO THE MISDEMEANOR STATUTE" he should have still argued it. If nothing else it gets the prosecutor, your attorney, and you in the same room to discuss resolving your case. I'd say about 3/4s of my DUI cases resolve at the suppression hearing.

But it's always dangerous to Monday morning quarterback another attorney's case without any actual facts.

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ithacadude23 (May 25, 2017 - 9:13 am)

At this point I am not yet planning to be a convicted criminal because the chances in the appellate court seem to be high. For one,AG withdrew and appeal petition was granted. In my understanding, procedural stance is worth a lot. I noticed a long time ago how past due rent defendants were treated in the small claims- like they were already guilty, could not even say a word - "why did not you pay the money?" - asks the small claims judge. Same about DUIs in trial - cops are there, prosecutor is there, why should the judge give you a dangerous drunkie a free pass when MADD is breathing on his neck? But if a misdemeanor case is appealed (perhaps at a great expense) and appeal petition is granted, and the arresting cop never saw you drive or saw you in a vehicle, then the attitudes are different. Since you went to fight so far and so hard for a misdemeanor, maybe there is something. thinks the judge.

He did not withdraw the motion to suppress, he strongly encouraged me to withdraw it. The case in question is pretty clear that is NEVER applicable to misdemeanors, but he missed that part. This was the head conviction case for the prosecutor but he ignored our comments about it and still used it in his argument. The trial judge accepted the argument and the case because in his county if you get arrested for DUI, you get convicted for DUI.

As I said, the firm accepts any client, runs up a bill behind their back. then you have a convicted felon, etc. on the one end of the controversy and a prominent constitutional/criminal lawyer on the other.

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retard (May 25, 2017 - 9:44 am)

I think it's a stretch to say that your chances are ever high as appellant. It's about more than the legal issue whether you want to acknowledge that or not.

Your attorney played a portion of a recording that the DA already had and it was damaging to you? Yes that sucks very much but I just don't see that as prejudicial. Did a jury hear it? Why would the prosecutor not have been permitted to introduce it?

You are proceeding pro se into appeals land claiming your lawyer did you wrong? I can tell you right now that the appellate judges hear that every day and many of them were former ADAs and then politically connected crime defense attorneys. Tread lightly amigo.

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ithacadude23 (May 25, 2017 - 10:01 am)

Not pro se, with a real lawyer this time (third time is the charm). 30 years experience in habeas corpus and criminal appeals. charged me 5k fixed to take the case through intermediate appellate and supreme courts (clearly no refund if I win at intermediate). Compare that to 11k for 2 years out of law school grad charging 11k for suppression motion

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ithacadude23 (May 25, 2017 - 10:01 am)

Not pro se, with a real lawyer this time (third time is the charm). 30 years experience in habeas corpus and criminal appeals. charged me 5k fixed to take the case through intermediate appellate and supreme courts (clearly no refund if I win at intermediate). Compare that to 11k for 2 years out of law school grad charging 11k for suppression motion

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thirdtierlaw (May 25, 2017 - 2:31 pm)

I'm not sure you understand how the appellate levels work. They look at the law and transcript. No judge is going through the mental gymnastics of considering why you're appealing a trial court decision and whether that means you're more likely or not to be guilty.

Best of luck, I hope you prevail.

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onehell (May 24, 2017 - 3:32 pm)

I would pay the 2.5k (so as to get the small claim dismissed and avoid any risk of having a judgment against you) and then complain to the bar. They often have a fee arbitration program which often results in split-the-baby type resolutions. Merely having paid a fee does not make it "reasonable" for ethics purposes.

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ithacadude23 (May 24, 2017 - 4:06 pm)

If there is a judgment against me, I plan to appeal. What risk does the judgment present?

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onehell (May 24, 2017 - 5:02 pm)

For one thing, judgments can show up on a credit report. For another thing, in some states small claims court judgments have limited or nonexistent appeal rights. And even if you can appeal, it's money and time and hassle and if you lose it's even more costs tacked on against you.

For a third thing, small claims processes are designed for speed. The judge may not have the time or inclination to delve into the question of whether the attorney fee is reasonable and may not have much expertise on the subject anyway. In my state many such judges didn't even go to law school. So they may be inclined to just treat it as a straight contractual matter (i.e. did you sign the agreement and did they actually do the work/spend that number of hours).

It's all about litigating stuff in the best possible forum. For example, in tax cases it is often preferable to just pay the tax so you can file a "refund suit" in federal court.

In this scenario, if it were, me, I would rather deal with the bar or a fee arbitration process, where the reasonableness of the fee and the quality of work can really be looked into by people who deal with such issues all the time and where there is no penalty taxed against me if I lose, than litigate it before some shoot-from-the-hip small claims court judge who has 2000 cases to hear this month and just needs to get stuff of his desk.

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adamb (May 24, 2017 - 7:08 pm)

Could you summarize, very generally, the timeline of the representation and the billing? For example, did the firm represent you at the arraignment? How many court dates? What did the first 10 hours of the retainer go toward? Why did this enormous bill appear only months after the firm had lost the suppression hearing without any prior billing?

$11k for a first time DWI guilty plea done after a routine suppression hearing just makes no sense unless there was lengthy representation due to unusual investigation and circumstances.

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ithacadude23 (May 24, 2017 - 9:07 pm)

The timeline was 5 months. This is for court of record, I had another attorney from another outfit for lower municipal court but he literally did not do jack and pled "no contest" despite my instructions to plead not guilty (I guess it is just my luck). I was billed 2 months after representation concluded. There was no explanation for no interim billings. Later he explained to me that I emailed and called him too much and he already explained to me how all communications are billed separately. Emailing and calling was actually often done to correct his mistakes. One time I was given a scotus case (Navarette) and told that I should be withdrawing my case based on this case, but I argued that the case only applied to felonies, not misdemeanors. He appeared to agree. The second time he asked me to withdraw based on a non-precedential case. There were 3 court dates, one for suppression, one for post-trial motion (which i filed and was granted because he was missing in action, but showed up for 5 min each to stay by my side for two additional dates to resolve the appeal bond status). No work was involved for the last two court dates, just being there because the judge will not talk to you without an attorney.

He seemed to do a lot of research, and meetings with prosecutor to discuss a deal (about 1k just for going to DA office and negotiating with them). Drafting motion to suppress - 1k. Filing discovery requests and reviewing files - 1k, etc. It just added up. They also billed for staff time and then discounted it 100% (edits to bill by paralegal -$105). My case was abandoned after trial, requiring me to file a pro se motion. I tried to get in touch with the firm during that day, and was billed about 600 for emails and phone calls trying to get ahold of my lawyer.

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dingbat (May 25, 2017 - 2:24 pm)

something doesn't add up, and I'm pretty sure that we won't get sufficient information out of you to fully understand it.

I'm sorry this happened to you, but, we can't help you

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adamb (May 26, 2017 - 7:22 am)

Agreed

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fettywap (May 25, 2017 - 2:49 pm)

Yes, you seem like an extremely high maintenance client over a traffic ticket. It's not that serious.

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dingbat (May 26, 2017 - 8:51 am)

misdemeanor traffic cases usually mean injury to a person, damage to property, DUI/DWI, or driving without a license.

Those can be quite serious, possibly even jail time

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ithacadude23 (Jun 9, 2017 - 10:57 am)

I went through all the responses and am trying to make a decision now on how to proceed. MADD did not testify at my hearing, but from talking to a bunch of attorneys judges basically are intimidated into sentencing all DUI defendants or otherwise the electorate goes to the state legislature and screams for the judge not to be reelected. If you sentence a DUI defendant, the chances of appeal petition being granted or conviction reversed are slim, while the chances of MADD pouring dirt all over a lenient on DUI judge are almost certain (let alone if that person who was let go kills someone).

I am in a state where 911 call only develop reasonable suspicion after police corroborates the bad driving. Somebody called me in for bad driving. I was near a community center sitting outside about 150 ft from the car when the police arrived. The office saw my car, somehow figured out it was me and took my license and had me wait for about 10 minutes for DUI expert, who arrived, asked me if the reported parked car was mine, which I answered yes to, and then he proceeded with field sobriety and breathalizer. At first I refused to both but then the DUI cop threatened to charge me with refusal and take me to jail if I do not. Basically they said that they tied me to the driving through the 911 call because I said the reported car belonged to me (I did not admit to driving).

I used the advice and went to mediation conducted by state bar and that was worthless. Basically, they need their money now or else. So I am speculating about how to approach it and what attorney I can get to maybe take the case on contingency or for a minor fee, because the amount in controversy is so relatively small (about 3k) that many attorneys will not consder it worth their time.

I know the state is undisclosed (or maybe limited to 4 states per above data) but please let me know if you had any feedback on finding a good and inexpensive attorney to take the contract breach and possible legal malpractice counterclaim as far as we can go.

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ithacadude23 (Jun 14, 2017 - 10:01 pm)

Does anyone have any comments?

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