Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

The chutzpah! Lawyer brings a ‘stunning’ suit against former client after allegedly hiding discovery, bungling case

By: Phillip Bantz//August 25, 2015

The chutzpah! Lawyer brings a ‘stunning’ suit against former client after allegedly hiding discovery, bungling case

By: Phillip Bantz//August 25, 2015

One attorney was “almost speechless” and another proclaimed that he had not seen a lawyer bring such an audacious lawsuit against a former client in his 17 years of practice.

The two flabbergasted attorneys, Robert Rikard and Robert Dodson, were talking about fellow Columbia lawyer Nathaniel Roberson and his breach of contract and fraud action against his ex-client, Old McGraw Road Community Development Corp.

Lawyers are generally discouraged from suing their clients, a move that is considered to be bad form. But Rikard and Dodson say that Roberson’s complaint against Old McGraw is particularly outrageous because he hid discovery, threw his client under the bus in court, lost the case and still collected attorney’s fees but sued for more money. Dodson

Dodson is defending Old McGraw and Rikard was involved in the underlying case that gave rise to Roberson’s suit.

“They tell us in CLE after CLE after CLE, ‘Never sue a client for a fee,’” Dodson said, referring to continuing legal education courses. “Most lawyers take that to heart. They don’t do that. To get this lawsuit in this particular case is just stunning.”

The suit stems from a settlement agreement that Old McGraw, a community organization in northeastern Richland County, negotiated with the county and the Northeast Landfill company. The deal extended the life of a local landfill and was worth about $4 million to Old McGraw.

Old McGraw initially retained the Columbia-based lobbying and consulting firm of Steven Fooshe & Associates to broker the landfill deal. But Fooshe ended up suing McGraw after the organization refused to pay the firm for its work.

Old McGraw hired Roberson to defend it against the Fooshe suit and also to help it attain 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit status, which was a requirement for finalizing the agreement with the landfill.

While defending Old McGraw, Roberson denied Fooshe’s request for notes from Old McGraw’s board meetings after it began working with Roberson in the fall of 2011. He wrote in response to the request, “There have been no board meetings since September 2011.” Rikard also alleged that Roberson later told him that any meetings held after that time “were not formal meetings where minutes were taken.”

Fooshe and Rikard, the firm’s attorney, were seeking details about Roberson’s and Fooshe’s fee arrangement with Old McGraw.

Bombshell dropped in court

Old McGraw’s treasurer testified during a deposition that Roberson had agreed to represent the organization “in the goodness of his heart” and had not discussed a fee. Roberson was present during the deposition.

He also was watching as Old McGraw’s secretary took the stand at trial and torpedoed the treasurer’s testimony. She revealed in court that the board did, in fact, have a fee arrangement with Roberson. She also had minutes from at least eight meetings that the board held after hiring Roberson.

The members had discussed Roberson’s fee during some of the gatherings. The records also showed that Roberson or his co-counsel, Joseph Henry, had attended five of those meetings.

In addition to the minutes, the secretary provided a bill for Roberson’s work on the settlement agreement and correspondence related to his fee arrangement. He was to receive 10 percent of the landfill settlement, or $400,000. That was the same cut of the settlement that Fooshe was supposed to get.

“During cross examination at the trial it became apparent that we had not been provided documents relating to Mr. Fooshe’s engagement, including Mr. Roberson’s attempt to place himself into the shoes of my client regarding his fee agreement for services rendered,” Rikard said.

“Those documents were hidden from us until trial and turned out to be one of the critical pieces of evidence against Old McGraw,” he added.

After the revelation in open court, Roberson and Jones blamed their client, claiming that they had asked Old McGraw representatives for copies of the meeting minutes and were told that none existed, according to Rikard.

But Old McGraw’s president, who was in the courtroom, said Roberson and Jones had advised board members that they were required to produce minutes from “Fooshe time only.” The secretary said Roberson and Jones had never asked for the minutes in question.

The surprise documents resulted in a $395,000 verdict for Fooshe. The court was considering sanctions against Roberson and Old McGraw when the case settled, Rikard said.

‘I couldn’t believe it’

Following the debacle at trial, Roberson turned around and sued Old McGraw for 10 percent of the settlement. He had already received $25,000 in attorneys’ fees, as had Jones, according to Dodson, who is defending Old McGraw. The organization has filed a counterclaim against Roberson for legal malpractice.

“I’m stunned. I couldn’t believe it when I read the lawsuit,” Dodson said. “I’ve been a lawyer for 17 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Rikard added in a separate interview, “I’m almost speechless after reading this lawsuit.” He described Roberson’s complaint as “bold and unique.”

Roberson and his attorney, Jerry Screen of Columbia, did not respond to interview requests. Roberson, a graduate of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, has been a member of the South Carolina Bar since 1993 and has no public disciplinary record.

Not only did Roberson allegedly hide discovery, he also may have had a conflict of interest in entering into a fee arrangement that gave him a financial stake in the outcome of the landfill deal, according to Rikard.

A final twist in this messy case is that Roberson failed to get his contingency agreement with Old McGraw in writing – despite having argued while representing Old McGraw that Fooshe was not entitled to payment because the firm did not have a written contract.

“The irony is dripping from this,” Dodson said.

Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @SCLWBantz

Business Law

See all Business Law News


See all Commentary


How Is My Site?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...