Legal Question in Civil Litigation in Florida

It seems that a firm that use to represent me for a legal matter, filed with the Smalls Claims Court a complaint against me for an outstanding balance of $2,500.00. I do not agree with this filing, as I had paid the attorney/firm a total of an estimated $14,000.00 in legal fees, on a case that took about a year and half to settle and finally refinance a mortgage. I still haven't been served with the Complaint in this matter, but know of it, because I was looking for a different matter in the Clerks website. So no service of the matter has been properly done on me as of yet.

Throughout the litigation, I expressed to the attorney/firm representing me, my concerns with how long the matter was taking to get resolved and my concerns on how much I was paying in fees throughout the litigation, since I was a regular, income earning individual who could not afford large amounts of legal fees. I expressed this to the attorney/firm more than once and I was still getting bills from them, but nothing was going on and in reviewing the bills, I would see how the attorney was charging me for reviewing my concerns about fees and length of litigation, which I would send via-email to him (I found this to be unfair). I have been working in the legal field for 14 years and in the past, when this litigation was on going, I expressed to different colleagues what I was getting charged and they even they felt that I was being ripped off on a foreclosure negotiation matter. The only reason why I even hired this attorney was because I knew him for several years and he had assisted a mutual friend with a debt matter a couple of years prior, so I felt I was safe in the matter

I hired my attorney shortly after getting served with the foreclosure Complaint in 2008 and immediately we served an answer on the Complaint. The attorney even had the matter set for Court at the beginning of 2009 or ending of 2008, I canít remember exactly when, to resolve the matter and the bank's attorney canceled the hearing. Then for months, nothing was going on in my case, but yet I was receiving invoices with apparently phone calls and communications with the other side, but yet nothing was being resolved and I felt the case was in a delayed process. As I stated before, I expressed my concerns about the matter and the attorney always claimed he was doing everything he could to resolve the matter; personally I do not believe he did and there is a possibility that this matter was sat on by both the bank's attorneys and my own attorney.

Then finally after a year and a half, my attorney claims that the bank's attorneys wanted to settle the matter and refinance the mortgage for me. So we proceeded to do so. After the matter was concluded I expressed to my attorney my concerns on the outstanding $2,500.00, after having paid already $14,000.00. I only received a few more invoices for that amount and then eventually I stopped receiving them. Then one day, I casually bumped into my attorney in the lobby of my building and we chatted for a few moments. In that conversation he mentioned to me about the outstanding balance and he himself told me, not to worry about the outstanding balance. I said okay and thanked him and kept going. That was I believe towards the end of 2011. Then at some point at the beginning of 2012, I received an email from my attorney, which was an email chain that he was leaving the firm he was employed at and starting at another firm. I congratulated him on the change and left it at that. Then in November of 2012, in looking in the Clerk's website I see that the firm he previously was working for was filing suit for the outstanding balance of $2,500.00. After seeing this, I immediately sent my attorney an email expressing to him on why they were filing suit, when he told me not to worry about it, when we casually saw each other a year earlier. The attorney, as I suspected, told me he never said such a thing to me and only remembers sending me invoices for the outstanding balance.

I was really upset to see his response, but then I responded confirming to him that he did in fact say that to me and even described to him the encounter we had when he said it. The attorney never responded to that email response of mine. I believe that he may have forgotten to right off the matter prior to his departure from the firm, which is why the firm has turned around and filed a small claims court suit against me. I know that since I haven't been properly served with the notice, it is moot in the meantime, but in the event I do eventually get served, what defenses do I have, if any, and if so, how can I proceed with defending this matter. I don't make a lot of money; I am only a legal secretary. Do I have some defense on a possible over billing matter that I can counterclaim? I am just reaching out to see if someone can direct me in the right direction. I cannot afford large attorneys fees to assist me with this matter, so I need to defend the matter on my own as best as I can. Thank you.

Asked on 2/18/13, 10:53 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Barry Stein De Cardenas, Freixas, Stein & Zachary

1. I would do nothing until you are served.

2. I would prepare to suboena the attorney and put him under oath and ask him again about your conversation. the problem is that there was no consideration for the novation of your underlying agreement and it would not stand without some consideration. If there was then it could be enforceable.

3. Small claims will involve a pretrial and mandatory mediation. Planon attending that when you are served and prepare to settle the case if you can. That will mean paying something but less than the total claimed to resolve it. I would consider 50% of the amount paid over time if you can swing that.

4. At the pretrial you can ask the Court for discovery and you can ask for all billings and time records to show what work was done.

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Answered on 2/18/13, 11:05 am

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