Toledo Talk

Legal escrow refund question

I have a question about how to deal with an attorney who is giving me issues.

I have just wrapped up a divorce that there is about $4500 in escrow that is owned to me.

My attorney is refusing to send me the cash because he claims that there may be more bills in the future. I told him last Friday that we are done and he should invoice me for any, unlikely, additional work. I gave him electronic fund transfer information but nothing has happened. Big surprise.

He got the cash sent to him instead of directly to me which I find unethical.

What is my recourse? Complaining to the local bar?

created by bobo on Aug 26, 2014 at 01:48:15 pm     Comments: 24

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If there are no insurance premiums due and taxes are current, I would think the escrow account could be liquidated and dispersed to you right away. Is there a 30 day window or something that the lawyer is entitled to ??

posted by Hoops on Aug 26, 2014 at 02:28:00 pm     #  

Clarify where the money came from. Who sent it to the lawyer and what was it for? I'm not aware of any specific window that an attorney can hold escrow money for but depending on why he has it and where it came from, there may be additional claims on the money that he has to wait out. (Disclaimer: my law license is in inactive status).

Note: if you find it unethical for the attorney to have the money sent to him instead of you, I would NOT suggest you give him EFT information - EFT is a two way street if you know the routing and account numbers. You can't even call your bank and stop payment on the transaction because you don't know where he might pull money to.

posted by MrsArcher on Aug 26, 2014 at 03:59:54 pm     #  

EFT information is not a two way street. Transfers can only be initiated by the sending bank. Having the target account information for a transfer does not give you any access to the account.

posted by jimavolt on Aug 26, 2014 at 04:25:34 pm     #  

The money came from liquidated Vanguard accounts. No taxes or anything else is now due. The only rational I got for not refunding was that there may be work in the future.

The other thing that gets me is that I was never given a compete list of how the escrow was used to pay for things like taxes and home repairs. In order to get that list I'm going to need to pay the attorney to request it? Nickel and dime...

posted by bobo on Aug 26, 2014 at 04:48:26 pm     #  

Bobo - as you describe it, the attorney has no right to hold the funds UNLESS your engagement letter with him says otherwise. If he is holding it for future legal fees I do believe that is unethical.

Clients have a right to an accounting of how all escrow fees being held on their behalf are used. There should be no cost to get a report because such itemization is required to be kept.

I would call the local bar and inquire with them what to do. It may take a simple phone call from them to him to say 'ah, you want to fix this ...' It may take you filing a formal complaint which attorneys (normally) take very seriously.

(I disagree on the EFT two-way-street issue. For example, I gave my gym a cancelled check so they have my routing and account number to grab my monthly dues; I don't do anything to initiate that. So obviously I trust them to grab only what they should. Maybe EFT isn't what it is called when it is creditor initiated, but essentially its the same thing. I normally don't do bill payment this way, but this is one case that I can point to that is. )

posted by MrsArcher on Aug 26, 2014 at 05:13:46 pm     #  

ACH: Automated Clearing House. Sounds like the form of EFT that you are describing.

posted by justread on Aug 26, 2014 at 05:36:24 pm     #  

Bobo - you are entitled to a detailed billing. Complete listing of everything that was done how long it took, and what the rate per hour was that was charged. Attorneys sell time, but they also have a fiscal responsibility to be good stewards for their clients and shouldn't even hesitate to generate an invoice with a detailed accounting of all work done.

posted by trixanne on Aug 26, 2014 at 07:20:54 pm     #  

From a lawyer friend: if that was the result of one conversation I would say talk to the attorney again. Send a letter requesting the money back. Give the attorney a week. Then follow up with your own lawyer.

posted by upso on Aug 26, 2014 at 07:21:11 pm     #  

I'm not a lawyer, and this isn't legal advice, but I don't like where this is headed:
Second lawyer says talk to the first lawyer again and then get a third lawyer. A fourth lawyer might suggest a fifth. And so on....

Why wouldn't it be just as effective to send a notarized, certified letter firing the bastard immediately, and a demand for a final accounting and return of all unspent escrow. Forthwith. Post haste.

Then, if he ignores you... you are going after a former attorney who kept your money rather than arguing semantics with your current attorney within a fiduciary relationship.

posted by justread on Aug 26, 2014 at 08:17:55 pm     #  

I have received lots of calls over the years with someone wanting me to second guess what their current or former attorney has done. In my experience, there is almost always a piece of the story that is not being communicated that explains why things were done the way that they were. In domestic relations cases, the chances of that happening are probably 99.9%. So I'll give the attorney the benefit of the doubt that there is an explanation.

And as a side note: when you are talking about money in attorney trust accounts, attorneys are extra careful because the fastest way to get your ticket punched is to mess with client funds. You probably have an overly busy attorney rather than one who is trying to pull something. I'd request a written explanation or a check within 10 days.

posted by Ace_Face on Aug 27, 2014 at 10:35:55 am     #   2 people liked this

Am not an attorney but have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. The Queen of Hearts has the best answer,"Off with his head."

posted by Mariner on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:57:38 am     #  

You should call the attorney and DEMAND that any unused retainer be returned immediately. Tell him or her you will being calling the grievance committee of the local bar association if this is not done. Then confirm your conversation in writing by certified mail. If you do not get the money returned timely, then file a formal grievance with the bar association. No ethical attorney would allow this type of matter to go that far.

posted by tolhol28 on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:23:10 pm     #  

While Ace_Face may be right, I'm reminded about Linda S. Cook who I wrote about here: When Lawyers Go Bad: The Conclusion. Basically, Linda Cook preyed on the most vulnerable segment of society, got caught and was given the lightest slap on her sensative little wrist that the law allows.
Cook ougut to be in the big house, but she isn't. She's free on the street.
Sadly, not all lawyers are honest people. You may have stumbled across one such, in which case you should stop fooling around and get your bread back.

posted by madjack on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:56:53 pm     #  

Who was the lawyer that ripped off her clients then kidnapped herself to Florida? Maybe I am remembering it wrong.

posted by MIJeff on Aug 27, 2014 at 01:01:12 pm     #  

Lol tried a Google search and came up with multiple instances of stories involving female lawyers ripping off clients and faking kidnappings, go figure.

posted by MIJeff on Aug 27, 2014 at 01:05:01 pm     #  

Wasn't that Karyn McConnell ????

posted by Hoops on Aug 27, 2014 at 01:07:54 pm     #  

You are remembering it right. She was also in Toledo City Council :

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/22199040/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/pregnant-attorney-says-she-made-abduction/

posted by jimavolt on Aug 27, 2014 at 01:11:50 pm     #  

tolhol28 posted at 12:23:10 PM on Aug 27, 2014:

You should call the attorney and DEMAND that any unused retainer be returned immediately. Tell him or her you will being calling the grievance committee of the local bar association if this is not done. Then confirm your conversation in writing by certified mail. If you do not get the money returned timely, then file a formal grievance with the bar association. No ethical attorney would allow this type of matter to go that far.

This isn't an unused retainer.

posted by MrsArcher on Aug 27, 2014 at 01:56:27 pm     #  

MrsArcher is correct that the money is not a retainer. Nonetheless it is client money that ethically MUST be returned to the client if requested. One call from the Bar Association counsel or Ethics Committee member should work to get the funds released.

posted by tolhol28 on Aug 30, 2014 at 10:12:56 am     #  

I did get a letter from stating that the money would be returned but he won't take anymore business.

The next challenge will be getting a detailed list of how the spent $70K of escrow.

A lot of that distribution was done without my approval.

I did call the Toledo Bar and the person I spoke said that he was not sure if they could bill me for the job of billing me. IE, charge me for spending my escrow money and/or letting me know who they spent it.

posted by bobo on Sep 01, 2014 at 04:47:05 pm     #  

bobo posted at 04:47:05 PM on Sep 01, 2014:

I did get a letter from stating that the money would be returned but he won't take anymore business.

The next challenge will be getting a detailed list of how the spent $70K of escrow.

A lot of that distribution was done without my approval.

I did call the Toledo Bar and the person I spoke said that he was not sure if they could bill me for the job of billing me. IE, charge me for spending my escrow money and/or letting me know who they spent it.

Am I correct that the money was yours/you and your ex-wife's and the reason the attorney had it was to distribute it according to the separation agreement or court order?

posted by Ace_Face on Sep 01, 2014 at 05:07:29 pm     #  

Ace - you are correct.

posted by bobo on Sep 02, 2014 at 04:52:06 pm     #  

If it was distributed pursuant to a court order, they don't need your approval or permission. Wouldn't the court order say who was to get it and how much?

posted by MrsArcher on Sep 02, 2014 at 06:48:05 pm     #  

Everything has been paid as ordered by the court. Now we're down to the balance and they won't release it.

posted by bobo on Sep 02, 2014 at 08:45:22 pm     #