Coldonada (2)


Manoucher Avaznia
by Manoucher Avaznia


Most probably, on February 28 my wife and I met Mr. Douglass in his office. This meeting lasted approximately forty-five minutes. I handed him a written account of the business activities with some exact dates that my wife and I still had in memory about the time that she had been forced out of the business. I also confirmed with him that we were not being charged for my wife’s previous meetings and conversations with him.

My wife had some figures in mind from the assets of the business that she gave to Mr. Douglass and the fact that she had worked on the dancing schools contracts for more than two months; ten hours a day including two weekends. Here, the lawyer told her not to put herself down and ask for the real value of her hourly work.

“When working for yourself you put too many hours that you do not get paid for,” he would say.

He, also, told us that there was a law according to which if as a result of someone’s work another person profited, that person had to pay the one who had worked. Also, he proposed to us to ask for the money value of the assets and the work because otherwise he had to hire an expert and send to my wife’s partner to evaluate the assets. This, according to him, was too much headache and would cost us more money.

Here, my wife told him that her partner always said that she did not have money and how he was going to recover such money that he calculated to the total of forty-three thousand dollars. He repeated the story of the first lawyer that the court would put the value of what she had claimed on her partner’s house.

At the end of the meeting Mr. Douglass told my wife that she was going to get the whole money, however she was to be prepared to compromise because judges made mistakes too. According to him making a deal with a little less was better than taking the risk of judge’s mistake and losing the case and paying for the other-side’s legal expenses. My wife mentioned that her partner was using the machinery and all other assets to her benefit right in those moments. To this he answered not to worry because she would receive the value of the asset. Also, he said he was going to write a letter to my wife’s partner and would give her two weeks time to answer. After that he would go to court.

Anxious about the situations, we gave Mr. Douglass a fax number in order to receive the correspondence as soon as possible. I gave him five post-dated checks, saying that since I did not have money in hand I was paying interest on the checks from that date because they were coming from my line of credit. Both my wife and I signed the one-sided retainer agreement in front of him. Indeed, our financial circumstances and the fact that we did not know anything about law seemed to leave us no room to maneuver. We walked out of his office with our trust put in him.

On March 02, 2000 a two-page-long draft letter was faxed to us. In the letter there was an arithmetic mistake of 100 times 150 equals 1500, wrong information regarding a date, and one number “five” to be changed to a number “six”. So, I called Mr. Douglass and asked him to correct those mistakes. This took almost five minutes. The revised letter was faxed to us on March 6 when we approved it and it was mailed to my wife’s partner. Later on we received a two-page-long draft letter of what Mr. Douglass had faxed to us before. In total, he had demanded about fifty-five thousand dollars of which twenty-seven thousand was wages only.

Having received the letter, my wife’s partner hired a lawyer named Mr. Scot. Sometime later, we found out that Mr. Scot and our lawyer knew one another for some time. Apparently, they used to share an office in the same building.

The first letter we received from Mr. Scot through Mr. Douglass’ office was dated April 13, 2000. In this letter Mr. Scot had denied that my wife was entitled to wages. He had argued that the business had been a partnership based upon equally sharing the profits and the losses. This, of course, we had mentioned to Mr. Douglass and he knew that the other side had equally paid all her part of the expenses before January 01, 2000.

Mr. Scot, also, had confirmed that the partnership had been dissolved as of March 01, 2000 “when … notified your client that the business relation was terminated”. He also, said the name of the partnership had been cancelled “in and around that date”.

Where did this one-month difference come from? Why did Mr. Scot not give the precise date of the cancellation while he had the confirmation (supposedly he had the documents) of the cancellation of the name? We do not know. He had not mentioned who had cancelled the business, but had promised that he would meet his client in “coming weeks” to further ascertain the business liabilities and my wife’s claims over the share.

Mr. Scot delayed his second letter until his partner finished the order of the dance schools and had everything at her disposal. Meanwhile our lawyer, despite his promises, was absolutely inactive. On May 23, 2000 we received Mr. Scot’s second letter. In his letter, almost four months after my wife had been forced out of the business, he had given an inventory of the assets of the business. What happened to the assets during this time? He would say nothing. Why this delay?

Any way, most figures were wrong. Some of the assets had been claimed false. Some had been deeply depreciated. Two industrial sewing machines had depreciated forty-seven percent in just ten months. This meant that they must have been used so heavily that they had depreciated that much. This was while the lawyer claimed the business had been a money-losing venture. Also, there was about seven hundred dollars worth of liabilities of which my wife was responsible for half.

At the end of his letter, Mr. Scot had welcomed my wife to half of what he had claimed to be the inventory of the business and settle the matter. This did not include what the business had bought after January 01, 2000, of course. The other side believed the dancing studios had given the money for the fabrics and the schools had chosen her to continue with the contract and not my wife.

The inventory after four months without any documentation was not acceptable. My wife let Mr. Douglass know of that. Consequently, Mr. Douglass quietly dropped the wage claim and asked for an accurate accounting of the business until July 01, 2000. Why not mention the wage? If my wife was not legally entitled to such a wage why it should be mentioned in the first place? Was this a mistake? Was such a mistake acceptable from an expert in civil litigation?

It seemed the process would drag on for a long time. Out of concern about the cost of the procedure, I called Mr. Douglass and asked for an account of my bill that I could mail him more post-dated checks that he could continue the case. Around June 05 I received a detailed account of time and disbursement along with a nine-line-long draft letter dating June 02, 2001 asking for our approval. He had asked the solicitor of the other side to give an accounting of all business activities with supporting documents. There was a fourteen-day time for the other party to respond.

I briefly looked at Mr. Douglass bill. Almost everything had been put at twice the time spent on the subject. The first meeting that he had with my wife and he had told us that he would not charge us for had been accumulated one and a half hour. The call that I had given him regarding the first draft letter, however most of it was about his arithmetic mistake and information about the exact date of events, that I had given him in writing with the account of the business events on our meeting of February 28, had been calculated half an hour. In total, until then, Mr. Douglass had revised the letter twice: allegedly because we had changed its contents. Interestingly enough that we had been charged for over forty minutes for the revisions; leave alone the letter itself. In total 4.20 hours had been spent on the demand letter and meetings. In short, our five hundred dollars deposit had been depleted when he had mailed his first letter to the other party.

In addition, there were five instances of contact with Mr. Scot that we had been charged for, but I did not know about their contents save the last one that included a letter from Mr. Scot. This totaled 1.8 hour. Now, why should I pay for his arithmetic mistake? Or, why should I be charged for the wrong date that he had entered in the letter? Anyway, we had no control over these.

Having seen the bill, I called Mr. Douglass and asked about our telephone calls that did not total as he had stated. He responded that it was the way he charged his clients, adding that for the question I had asked he was going to charge me as well. So, we were being charge for even asking about his billing method, leave alone what he did toward the case. In a final analysis, we could not make any objection towards the way he billed us.

Facing the situation, we reduced our calls to the least. We stopped leaving message on his answering machine. Having this in mind, later I noticed a pattern of charging. When we called, he would not answer the phone so that we had to leave a message on his machine. Then, he would return our call. In this way he was charging twice: once for listening to our message and once for answering the message. Thus, it happened that I called him several times and as soon as the machine started I cut the call off.

Meanwhile, I noticed that he had given himself a raise of five dollars for 1.6 hour. This appeared to be based upon the agreement we had signed that one of the factors to determine his hourly rate was complexity of the matter. Now, why his inefficiency which was another factor and he had displayed a great deal of had no effect on brining his rate down? In total, we have been charged seven hundred sixty-four dollars that he had reduced to five hundred dollars. I sent him post-dated checks until end of December 2000.

Meanwhile from the other party no answer came. It seemed there was no choice except going to court. Sometime, around July 20, 2000 a one-page and a half Affidavit draft reached us from Mr. Douglass. I looked at the letter and found few points of concern. These points, we either had not given to him; or he had entered them wrong again. So, I called him and changed about six sentences of the Affidavit. Some of the changes were one sentence only. Others were about the information that we had not given him. In the last bill, I found that this had been noted as voicemail from me and voicemail to me and I had been charged twenty-four minutes for. This whole contact took about ten minutes and he was changing the information in his computer as I was talking to him.

On August 02, 2000 my wife had to go to Mr. Douglass’ office to sign the Affidavit. There, she changed only one sentence (the sentence about the reason behind the name of the business) in the document and in the bill there was half an hour of charge. In short, just to compile this Affidavit, we had been charged 3.2 hours. Added were other elements that brought the total time spent on the matter to 5.3 hours. The final result was that a hearing was set for September 07, 2000. Based upon the other side’s unavailability, having an overseas trip, the hearing was postponed until September 28, 2000 when she could be reached.


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