Missouri Woman Hires Lawyer To Help Grandson In Custody Case . . . Then Lawyer Takes Her Home To Pay Fees

There is a disturbing case out of Florissant, Missouri where Ruby Sawyers lost her home due to an unpaid debt.  Regrettably, that is not unique or even rare in this economy, but the debt was owed to her former attorney and the person who bought the home was her former attorney, David Waltrip.  What is also concerning is the cost of the litigation in a custody case.

Sawyers is a part-time waitress who was trying to help her son get sole custody of his baby boy. She hired Waltrip for what she says was an agreed upon fee of $15,000 or $20,000.  Waltrip won the case and Sawyers said she was paying $200 a month, but then received a bill for almost a quarter of a million dollars.  She said that she and her grandson agreed to the judgment of the debt to avoid legal complications.  They then filed for bankruptcy.

The problem is that judgment meant that you could not just declare bankruptcy and Waltrip went after her home through a lien.

Waltrip insists that the case took two years and a lot of work (and tried to work with the family on the costs and payments), but I was very surprised that a custody case in Missouri could result in such a staggering legal bill.

Waltrip certainly appears to have followed the law on securing the judgment, lien, and forced sale.  However, the amount of the judgment leaves me uncertain about what went on in this case.

10 thoughts on “Missouri Woman Hires Lawyer To Help Grandson In Custody Case . . . Then Lawyer Takes Her Home To Pay Fees”

  1. lawyers are not slaves. they are entitled to be paid just like every other worker.
    they also have a right to the same legal remedies
    these days sometimes people believe in equal protection but not for lawyers

    1. But are they entitled to whatever amount they choose to bill their clients? It’s the amount of the bill at question here and how it was determined, not the lawyer’s right to a reasonable fee.

    2. Lawyers are ethically required to consider the best interests of their clients, and provide appropriate advice. Obviously, we don’t have documentation of the communications which took place here. However, the attorney should have been actively discussing with her on an on-going basis the amount of fees that had been incurred in light of her personal situation and the goals of the representation. If he did that, then he should have documentation of that advice. No client should be expecting a $15,000-$20,000 bill if the fees are actually over 10 times that.

  2. Cases like this are happening thousands of times a day throughout America, only the perpetrators are not lawyers but doctors and hospitals forcing patients into bankruptcy after patients seek their help. Why is there only outrage for lawyers but none whatsoever for doctors and hospitals?

    I agree with warspite2. Involuntary liens can be set aside in bankruptcy. In other words, always keep your voluntary liens current, and if you’re short of money, the hell with legal fees and medical bills for they are not grounds for taking your home.

  3. It’s enough to give lawyers a bad name. Why, you’d think that some of them actually prey on the weak and vulnerable…..

  4. This article does a rather poor job of explaining the facts.

    I presume the attorney received an agreed judgment from the client and then filed the judgment in the appropriate records to become a lien on the client’s property. In this case the lien attached to the house. The client, the debtor, must not have filed bankruptcy soon enough to avoid the lien through the bankruptcy process. That is, reverse the lien to make the debt unsecured. In any event if the lien attached and could not be avoided via the bankruptcy it would remain and presumably permit the attorney to foreclose despite the bankruptcy.

  5. Yes, $250,000 was excessive. $25,000 is more like it, but still too high, for people on the waitress level of earnings. There should be a written fee agreement somewhere.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

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