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18 years after legal malpractice verdict, ex-client still waiting

When a lawyer who has been found guilty of legal malpractice is unable to pay the judgment, it can be frustrating for his or her victims. The verdict is supposed to make the attorney’s former client whole for damages caused by the attorney’s negligent representation. Without the money actually changing hands, it may seem like justice has not been served.

People sitting on a legal malpractice verdict that may never be paid might take comfort in other things. For example, the attorney could be disbarred because of his or her conduct. Thus, he or she cannot victimize future clients with substandard legal work.

One man who was wrongfully convicted in 1994 of murder in his mother’s death has been waiting 18 years for the money owed to him by his defense attorney. During the trial, the attorney acted “so obnoxious, belligerent and unprepared” that two jurors complained to the judge.

The man was convicted and sent to prison, without his lawyer ever calling an expert witness to present an explanation for the source of the fire that killed his mother, or combating several misleading statements by the prosecution. He hired a new attorney, who got the conviction overturned after two years behind bars.

Later, he sued his original defense attorney for legal malpractice, and was awarded $360,000. But the attorney did not have malpractice insurance, and in 2011 he filed for bankruptcy. Today, he is suspended from practicing law, is 86 and reportedly in poor health.

His new attorney is trying to recover something for the wrongfully convicted man, but it remains to be seen if that will happen. With interest, the judgment is now at about $590,000.

Source: The Courier-Journal, “Legal malpractice award still unpaid after 18 years,” Andrew Wolfson, June 16, 2014

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