Styles & Pumpian, a Wisconsin law firm, appears eager to replace the fictional Dewey, Cheatem & Howe as a stereotype of lawyers. The family of Ira Bordow, 54, (left) was struggling to deal with his suicide when they found a check for $250,000 from a settlement with West Bend Mutual Insurance. Some $41,666 of that money was Bordow’s as part of a one-third contingency fee shared with his firm. The family sent the check to the firm expecting that it would do the right thing and send the estate Bordow’s share. However, Edward Styles of the Styles firm wrote his brother to say that they decided to keep it all because Bordow had “terminated his relationship with us regarding this action without notice and without cause.” The firm has forced the grieving family to go to court to get it to relinquish the money.
The settlement came in a crash case where Jean and Edwin Thaves were killed while sitting in their stopped car at a traffic light. Kelly Duke was driving a stolen car and lost control — going airborne and then crashing through the rook of the couple’s car. Duke went away for 30 years. There was an initial settlement of $100,000 to the couple. The second check for $250,000 was made out to both Bordow and the firm. It was found in Bordow’s car by his brother David Bordow. The brother did the right thing and sent it to the firm for safekeeping and fair division.
Styles wrote the family that one of the grounds for his keeping his former partner’s money is that “the withdrawal (from the fee agreement) acts as a breach of contract and the attorney creating the breach is entitled to no fees whatsoever.” Obviously, there are two issues here. One is a matter of simple morality and decency that seems to have escaped Styles. With a dead partner and a grieving family, most human beings would struggle to get as much money as possible to the family to help out — as opposed to looking at the suicide as an opportunity like manna from heaven.
Second, I do not buy the argument that a death constitutes a withdrawal, even a suicide. Various bars have made clear that estates can collect on contingency arrangements after a death. See Lewsader v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 296 Ill.App.3d 169, 694 N.E.2d 191 (1998)(recovery of lawyer’s fees is not barred by the death of the lawyer).
A hearing is scheduled for March and most lawyers would be deeply ashamed to argue a claim to money owed a grieving family, but then again the Styles law firm appears to be a breed apart. To put it simply, the firm may have Styles but no class.
Source: Journal Sentinel