Last night I was privileged to attend the Oregon meeting and dinner for the American College of Trial Lawyers.
STOP! I know you are considering not reading further because of the sentence above. You think this blog may not entertain you. Come on now, have I ever let you down? Keep reading.
Those of you enjoying this blog in Portland will agree that we live in a small town. That point was never more obvious to me than it was last night.
The American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL because it takes too long to type) is a fancy-schmancy group of litigators from all over the United States and Canada. Mr. Patience and Understanding was inducted last year in London after a very long and secret vetting process that obviously did not include a background check of his wife.
The ACTL is unlike any other group of lawyers with which I’ve ever spent time. Despite the fact these are some of the most accomplished and renowned lawyers in the US and Canada, they are down-to-earth, approachable, funny, and humble. At every event I’ve attended thus far, I’ve been amazed at the (how do I put this?) lack of assholes, pricks, and arrogant douchebags.
I don’t mean to disparage the profession, but let’s admit it: Being stuck in a roomful of attorneys is usually about as appealing as a cactus colonoscopy.
Anyway, back to my main point:
Portland is a Small Town
Herewith is a partial list of my connections to the location and attendees at this meeting. I cannot write the list in full because I am organizing my write-in campaign for Portland City Council today (more on that tomorrow).
- The event was held at the Heathman Hotel. I used to work there serving tea and being condescended to by rich people.
- The dinner took place in the banquet room in which my rehearsal dinner for wedding #1 (to The Canary in a Coal Mine) was hosted.
- We were joined at our table by a couple I’ll call Doug and Lucy, because those are their names. My mother used to work with Doug. I worked for Doug’s firm prior to law school. Lucy performed my wedding to the Canary in a Coal Mine. They were both at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. Are you still with me?
- Also present was a lawyer named John with whom my mom worked at the same firm. John is a tall drink of wine (I don’t get the expression when “water” is used) and an all-around great guy. For example, he wasn’t offended when I said, “I didn’t know you were in the College!” Instead he simply pointed out that the last time we saw each other was at the same event the year prior and noted that I probably don’t live my life according to his activities and thus was excused for my faux pas.
- Lo and behold, there too was my father’s ex-wife to whom he was married when I married the Canary in a Coal Mine and who thus was also at the rehearsal dinner. Her current husband is the father of someone I used to know (but didn’t) and an ACTL fellow. I noted, “The last time I saw you in this room was in quite a different set of circumstances for us both.” Then we had a giggle and a nice chat and I hope she doesn’t get in trouble for that because being seen talking to me can cause some people problems.
- A lawyer named Wally was there. I grew up in the same neighborhood as Wally and his family and he was the first to offer me a job when I graduated from law school – an offer that was rescinded when the bar mistakenly graded my bar exam as “failing” in what was surely a precursor of our relationship to come. The regrade took several months and Wally moved on with his life. Also notable about Wally is every single time he sees me the only thing he asks me is, “How’s your brother John?” It used to be funny. I am no longer amused.
- A very well-known defense lawyer was there to whom I referred a woman I used to know (but didn’t) when her boyfriend was nabbed in a prostitution sting and who later hired him for her own “double-the-legal-limit” DUII. She is related to the other woman I used to know (but didn’t), because DNA is a bitch and so are…never mind.
- And last but not least, there was Steve. Stevie E. cannot be relegated to a numbered point – he gets his own section.
The Adventures of Robin and Steve
I’ve known Steve since (wait for it!) I worked for him at the firm with my mom, Doug, John, and various and sundry other people who pretend not to know me when they pass me on the street.
I love Steve.
I always have.
I’ve looked up to him since I first met him in part because he, like John, is a tall drink of wine. He was one of the people who inspired me to go to law school and I don’t even hold it against him!
Did I forget to mention that the Canary in a Coal Mine grew up in the house Steve lives in now which is located next door to where my dad lived before he married the woman I referred to in point #5 above? This fucking town, I tell ya…
Steve is a very successful litigator who, like many lawyers, must hold his nose when he is hired by terrible clients. Mr. Patience and Understanding keeps telling me not to judge lawyers by their clients and I really try, but sometimes I fall into the “company you keep” mindset.
A few weeks ago I was alerted to a bar complaint response filed by Portland’s biggest DICKs (Divorce Industrial Complex Kingpins). It seems that the firm’s strategy for dealing with clients who complain about troublesome billing practices is now to not only deny doing anything wrong (well, duh), but also to blame their problems on me.
Herewith is a portion of the response in which I was so generously included:
“Further Issue for Which the Bar Should Be On Notice
(Holy shit, that is some Sarah Palin-worthy construct)
“This complaint is meritless and facially flawed. The abuse of the Bar’s (sic) resources is troubling. This complaint is designed to be part of an attempt to undermine a prior resolution of a bar inquiry (I love this euphemism “inquiry” in place of “complaint,” don’t you?) related to Laurel Hook and SK&H (“filed against” is proper terminology, not “related to”).
“Mr. (redacted) has been in communication with Robin DesCamp. Ms. DesCamp is actively and openly soliciting individuals to complain about SK&H in an effort to undermine the resolution entered into by Ms. Hook with the Bar (sic).”
Readers, the “Resolution” is a “Diversion Agreement” sort of like one you’d expect to be enrolled in if you had a first-time DUII (Point #7 above). The agreement makes you promise not to cheat your clients for a full 18 months (!) and states your bills have to be reviewed by other lawyers, one of whom is a lawyer for the firm and one of whom is a partner there.
If one successfully completes the “Diversion Agreement” the issue will not show up as formal discipline when some poor schmuck does their due diligence before hiring an attorney. In this case, lawyer Hook made the term “aggressive file romancing” look pale in comparison to the various and nefarious misdeeds disguised as billing entries.
Back to the complaint response written by avid golfer, Milwaukie Country Club member, and subject of the shady billing complaint Bradford Miller:
“Ms. DesCamp articulates an active and open goal of disrupting the resolution related to Laurel Hook, and creating more discipline for Hook and/or SK&H. She initiates contact with clients and former clients of SK&H to solicit their willingness to make a formal complaint against the firm, and encouraging (sic) them to do-so (sic).
(firm name redacted)
November 13, 2015
Sent via email to:(redacted)
I am writing in response to the allegations made against me by your clients Bradford Miller (“Miller”) and the Stahancyk Kent Hook law firm (“SKH”) in their 11/9/2015 response to the latest bar complaint by a client for improper billing.
Just to be clear, I should note this is the (redacted) complaint # (redacted). There are so many complaints by former clients against SKH that one can get confused.
I saw several issues of concern so I’ll lay them out in the order in which they appeared in the last page of his letter to the bar and his accompanying Exhibits 6 and 7.
Yes, I have encouraged people to complain to the bar if they feel they have been defrauded by any attorney, not just attorneys who work for SKH. This is neither a crime nor an ethical violation. However, given the large number of individuals who have contacted me to complain bitterly about SKH and their egregious billing practices, I certainly admit to encouraging those people to file if they feel such a claim is appropriate.
With the extent of information I have on the Darren Karr case (#13-118) which finally resulted in Hook’s “Diversion Agreement,” along with subsequent reports of ongoing questionable billings by Hook, I find my actions to be in the best interests of the legal profession in general and SKH former clients in particular.
For example, while under the Diversion Agreement, Hook petitioned the court in the (redacted) matter for attorney fees after a trial at which she did not prevail. Despite that, and despite the fact there was no statutory allowance for her to do so, Hook filed a petition with the court for attorney fees. Her fees were over $114,000, while opposing counsel’s fees were approximately $44,000.
Is it egregious after losing at trial to charge a client nearly three times what the other spouse paid? Is it also egregious to no doubt charge that client fees for filing such a motion when a lawyer must know she would not prevail on a fee petition motion? I believe it is.
My “Personal Vendetta”
I do not have a “personal vendetta.”
Rather, I am on a quest to redress the wrongs committed over and over again by divorce lawyers at the expense of their clients and their clients’ families. My quest is driven by the hundreds of people all over the United States who have contacted me after they have been destroyed by the family law system.
I am both fascinated and repelled by how this industry conducts itself and I speak out about my concerns freely, because whether or not I am a lawyer, I am entitled to do so – even if it makes some lawyers unhappy.
So long as I speak the truth, and I always do, I see no reason for the bar to either investigate or sanction me. These former clients and other people (such as the many former employees who have come to me) assure me they will be very happy to go on the record in detail concerning all these matters should that become necessary.
Those details are disturbing and yet each case is so similar as to create a common perception: Things are not right at this firm. Perhaps that is why their number of associates has so rapidly dwindled in recent times and their staff turnover rate is the highest I’ve ever observed.
I look forward to seeing all those cases aired out in a forum much more public than my little blog, which is fabulous by the way. Please check it out at www.robindescamp.com, if you haven’t already. I’m a riot! But you already knew that…
My Interactions with Former Clients of SKH
It is true on a rare few occasions I have reached out to former SKH clients, but only when a third party has encouraged me to do so because I have publicly announced I’m looking for ugly stories for my upcoming book: Divorce by Design: How to Split without Losing Your Mind, Your Money, or Your Kids.
This research (which has led me to dozens of divorce victims not represented by SKH, by the way) is neither illegal nor unethical.
I have posted on my blog and Facebook page that I would like to speak with people who have been (excuse my French) fucked over by their divorce counsel. I have posted my desire to speak with those who went through a divorce in which the other side’s counsel made an amicable resolution impossible.
Does your client truly believe it is appropriate to blame me when the names of SKH former clients are sent to me by their friends and family?
Sigh. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? But I digress…
All that being said, the vast majority of my contact with former SKH clients is initiated by those individuals, not me.
Case in point: The two men discussed in Miller’s 11/9/2015 letter to the bar. Both these former clients came to me for help when they had nowhere else to turn. In those circumstances, I admit when they asked me if they should file a bar complaint, “encouraging them to do-so.” (sic) That is neither illegal nor unethical.
My Claims of Super Powers
Regarding Miller’s assertion I have publicized my ability to “pressure the bar into obtaining disciplinary results,” that is open to interpretation and given the result that ensued in the Karr matter, obviously not true.
I don’t consider a “Diversion Agreement” discipline, especially since it will disappear from the record if Hook is able to complete it without getting into further hot water. Of course, that remains to be seen.
Darren Karr came to me after four years of frustration and what he felt was an astounding lack of response from the bar on a very serious matter – a matter your clients lost in every way at arbitration and yet for which they remarkably continued to bill him after losing that arbitration.
Darren asked me to go to bat for him, and I did.
I had tense emails and conversations with bar counsel Martha Hicks, one of which I recorded and I am eager to share not only with the bar but with my readers. That conversation led me to believe Hicks (and therefore, the bar) had no motivation or intent to seeing this case through for Mr. Karr, despite the facts at hand which clearly showed suspect billing practices.
In fact, I wrote to Sylvia Stevens, voiced my concerns to her, and asked if I could forward her the recording. She declined to respond.
However, suddenly the bar (after four years of doing essentially nothing on the Karr matter), issued the “Diversion Agreement.” I don’t consider myself an especially powerful person in this town, but my supposition that they only took action after my involvement was not far-fetched.
Perhaps it was mere coincidence, but Mr. Karr told me, and will tell the bar in a more public forum, that he believed nothing was done until I got involved. So there’s that.
My Claims of Working with the Bar
I have never alluded to being retained by or working with the bar on disciplinary matters as Miller claims.
SKH has chosen to purposefully misrepresent (a Facebook post of mine in which I announce I have been asked to review SKH files for billing issues) in hopes the bar will investigate me or “take whatever steps it deems appropriate” against me. Your clients seem to believe that silencing critics and halting the flow of information to the bar is necessary for Hook’s completion of her diversion without incident.
Hook’s ability to pass or fail this test has nothing to do with me, although one would hope the bar would listen to the desperate voices of other cheated clients should they report continuing troubled billing practices during a time Hook is supposed to be working on her issues.
One would hope.
It’s All My Fault
Miller and SKH seem to think I am the reason for this latest of many bar complaints. That is hardly the case. As (redacted) will attest, we were not even aware of one another until long after he sought to discredit the firm due to his negative experience with their legal services.
In fact, he posted on Yelp in July of 2014 (several months before he contacted me), “I will be reporting in detail to the Oregon State Bar the outrageous outcome of this simple set of tasks that I had to finish on my own.”
To that point, I look forward to a more public discussion on why a firm is so frightened of negative Yelp and other online review resources, in addition to little old me.
To imply that (redacted) filed this complaint in “bad faith” and at my behest illustrates your clients’ continuing pattern of lashing out against those who would bring to light the problematic business practices they employ.
Miller gripes that the complaint should have included (redacted) but didn’t, and that the omission is attributable to me.
First, that claim is false. Quoting (redacted)’s original complaint to the bar:
“I hired (redacted) for two things: revise the support order, since I moved away from the state and revise the parenting plan to accommodate the changes. I gave her over $11,000.00 to accomplish these simple tasks. She did not complete them and changed law firms twice during the process…”
Second, I did not pen that complaint.
How it was written and what it entails has absolutely nothing to do with me. I did not contribute in any way to its drafting. I think that’s pretty obvious given my writing style as opposed to (redacted)’s. He seems to be a nice enough fellow but he doesn’t have quite the way with words I do (pats self on the back for being clever).
As for whether he places more blame for his bills at the feet of your clients than he does (redacted), I have no impact on his perspective. Frankly, I have no idea how (Complainant) is apportioning the blame in his mind between (redacted) and your clients. I’m sure he can speak for himself should this matter go further with the bar.
SKH Whines About Having to Answer Bar Complaints; Seek Bar Action Against Me
Regarding Miller’s wailing to the bar that this is a waste of their resources, I have heard from many former clients who strongly disagree, and who will happily go on the record to illustrate why.
Miller goes so far as to suggest the bar “investigate” not only me, but also their former client who had the gall to seek help from the Oregon State Bar. This is akin to having the District Attorney investigate a rape victim for why she had the audacity to walk down a dark alley alone and report a subsequent assault to the police (OK, I see this now as slightly hyperbolic but still a good analogy).
It find it disturbing that in a profession tasked with seeking the truth and transparency, this firm is using all the power they can muster to quash the opinions and voices of those who would speak about their experiences or write commentary on the firm’s business practices.
In closing, I would like to note that I have been very circumspect in many ways when it comes to my criticisms of this organization. I have kept many facts and allegations either to myself or have not publicly and directly connected the name of the firm or specific lawyers to them.
(Here I have redacted 13 points which are well-known accusations against the firm and the lawyers within it because as much as I would love to include them here, I am saving them for the book.)
I suggest you remind your clients that the large number of bar complaints filed against them long before I came on the scene renders ridiculous their argument that I am suddenly to blame for complaints going forward.
As your clients are well aware, complaints against SKH are as common as the lawsuits they file against their former clients: lawsuits meant to squeeze the last pennies out of those billed into poverty by excessive fees.
I ask that your client make all efforts to remove these false allegations about me from the public record as soon as possible by submitting a new response to the complaint that omits all references to me and asking the bar to discard the November 9th response.
If the bar will not allow Miller to substitute a new response, I will publicly address all the matters contained within this letter should my name appear in any other SKH responses to bar complaints they will surely receive in the future. I will do the same should I be asked about this by anyone.
For example, I have an upcoming appearance on a very successful Portland radio program, and another one in Palm Springs next month. Should the hosts do some research and come across my name in Miller’s document, I am prepared to fully defend myself with all the facts that show I am not behind any bar complaints they may receive.
The same is true, obviously, should I be forced to defend myself if the bar launches an investigation of me at the behest of your client. In that case, we can see it is SKH, not I, who has the power to make such things happen. Must be nice.
While I often joke on my blog that “It’s all about me,” in this case, it isn’t.
Your clients’ problems are their problems. They need to put on their big girl panties and find a way to right a ship that is very much off course, not blame me for the storm that swept them there.
Hoo boy, that was corny!
Thank you very much. I hope to hear from you soon regarding my request.
“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”