Attorney Disbarred for Fee Ultimatum to Clients

The New Hampshire Supreme Court disbarred an attorney this week for giving an ultimatum to his clients in February of 2006: agree to his $2 million fee or he would not represent them in the mediation taking place that same day.  When the clients asked what would happen if they fired him, the attorney responded that the litigation “gets ugly,” and that:

if they terminated his services, he would sue them for his one-third contingency fee and ‘would win.’

The attorney, Timothy O’Meara, represented the husband and wife in a personal injury case arising out of an automobile accident in which the wife’s car was rear-ended by a paving truck while she was stopped at a red light.  The wife sustained a severe spinal cord injury and was left a quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator.

The Court made a number of factual findings, including that the attorney issued a settlement offer, without the clients’ authorization, for an amount insufficient to cover the wife’s ongoing care.  Whether the paving company’s acceptance of the offer and Mr. O’Meara’s subsequent withdrawal of the offer constituted an enforceable settlement was the subject of the mediation.  The Court also found that after fee renegotiations, in light of the unauthorized settlement debacle, the attorney tried to slip the clients a confirming fee agreement for $2 million rather than a “to be negotiated” fee they had orally agreed upon.

The Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) decided that the attorney’s “most serious violation was lying to the arbitration panel” in the fee dispute with the clients.

The Court disagreed, finding that the last minute fee ultimatum, among other egregious behavior, was equally as serious:

Equally serious, in our view, is O’Meara’s . . . allowing his own interests to interfere with effective representation of [his clients] . . . and, ultimately, by threatening to withdraw from representation on the morning of the mediation unless they acceded to his demand for a $2 million fee.

The PCC recommended that Mr. O’Meara be suspended from the practice of law for three years.  The Court decided that the PCC’s recommended sanction was insufficient and ordered that Mr. O’Meara be disbarred.

LPR applauds the New Hampshire Supreme Court for imposing a stiff sanction upon this attorney who violated his duty to “act in his clients’ best interests.”  The Court noted this is one of the “bedrock duties of the legal profession.”

We hope this ruling sends a chilling message to attorneys who put their own interests above that of their clients, as well as a message to the legal conduct committees in every state that this type of behavior must not be tolerated.

You’ve got options.  The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field.  Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970. 

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