Disbarred Attorney Permitted to Sue for Referral Fees
Disbarred Personal Injury Lawyer's Suit For Fees Is Permitted to Move Forward
Reprinted from The New York Law Journal, June 19, 2007A lawsuit initiated by former personal-injury attorney Morris J. Eisen against a law firm that allegedly failed to pay him for work he performed on cases he referred to it when he was disbarred will go forward following a Manhattan judge's denial of the firm's motion to dismiss.
Mr. Eisen was disbarred in 1992 by the Appellate Division, First Department, based on his conviction the preceding year for racketeering.
At his criminal trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Eisen and six co-defendants won multi-million dollar verdicts by fabricating evidence and bribing witnesses. They smashed a car with a sledgehammer to increase the apparent damage, enlarged a pot hole with a pick ax to exaggerate its danger and used shrunken images of rulers to make potholes appear deeper, prosecutors claimed. A co-conspirator allegedly paid a witness to proffer the same testimony regarding two different car accidents, one of which occurred while the witness was in jail for possession of stolen property.
Mr. Eisen was sentenced to 57 months in prison and was released after serving three years. He was disbarred in January 1992.
Following his release, Mr. Eisen initiated a series of suits against firms he claimed wrongfully withheld his share of the legal fees on cases he referred to them.
In the present suit, Landau v. Shapiro, Uchman & Myers, 600510/07, Mr. Eisen claimed that Shapiro, Uchman & Meyers failed to compensate him for cases resolved both before and after his disbarment.
The decision will be published Friday.
Shapiro Uchman moved to dismiss, citing laches and the statute of limitations, among other defenses.
In denying the firm's motion, Supreme Court Justice Marylin G. Diamond (See Profile) cited as precedent a prior action for unpaid fees waged by Mr. Eisen against a different set of defendants, Eisen v. Feder, 307 AD2d 817.
In Eisen, the First Department held that Mr. Eisen may recover on a quantum meruit basis for lawsuits completed by other attorneys following his disbarment and that the six-year statute of limitations commenced at the time of the disposition of each individual case.
Mr. Eisen may therefore pursue claims for any cases disposed of by Shapiro Uchman within six years of the commencement of the present case on Feb. 16, 2007, Justice Diamond ruled.
The court also rejected Shapiro Uchman's laches claim, holding that further discovery is required to determine if the firm still possesses records that it may have discarded when Mr. Eisen withdrew a similar suit against it in 2003.
Mr. Eisen's attorney, Morton Povman, said yesterday that Justice Diamond only "went half way," and that his client would move to reargue. Mr. Povman contended that the First Department's decision in Eisen holds that the statute of limitations does not preclude an attorney from collecting contracted-for fees in cases disposed of prior to the lawyer's disbarment.
William T. Myers of Shapiro, Uchman & Myers represented his firm. He declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation and saying that the decision "speaks for itself."
- Mark Fass can be reached at mfass@....
Comment: Those of us who were active in the insurance defense business in the 1980s should recall Morris Eisen's name with interest. Stories of his adventures as a plaintiff's personal injury attorney made the rounds regularly, along with rumours whose entertainment value made up for anything they may have lacked in veracity.