March 1, 2014

This Week's Greediest Lawyers Are . . .

Ira Bordow.
This is a story that has nothing to do with civil rights, criminal defense, or anything remotely connected to my practice of law. But it's one of those "that's why everyone hates lawyers" stories that's begs to be passed on.

The facts as reported are simple: Ira Bordow, a lawyer in Milwaukee, recently killed himself. Prior to his death, he took on a case under a fee-sharing agreement with the law firm Styles & Pumpian. Bordow negotiated a $250,000 settlement in a motor vehicle case, exchanged all the necessary paperwork, and collected the settlement check. Then he killed himself. A tragedy to be sure, but perhaps also an opportunity for some intellectually creative lawyers, unrestrained by antiquated moral qualms or basic decency, to make new law, and, best of all, to pocket a dead man's money.

Under the terms of the agreement, Bordow and his firm were entitled to $41,666. But Styles & Pumpian are refusing to pay, claiming that Bordow, by committing suicide after the case was over, had breached the contract and forfeited his right to be paid. It is a facially ludicrous argument, particularly since Bordow had already completed all of the work necessary to fulfill his obligations: he had negotiated the deal, memorialized the agreement, and received the proceeds.

But beyond it's vacuous legal sophistry, the refusal to pay is so plainly wrong on every level that it is impossible to understand how Styles & Pumpian could have actually proceeded as they did. You might think that the firm would back down immediately once this story got some press, but that doesn't seem to be happening.

Perhaps it's because a law firm that would treat a dead colleague as carrion is already beyond embarrassment. Maybe Styles & Pumpian are having money troubles, and the possibility of holding onto Bordow's the $41k is just too enticing to pass on. But in any event, it's precisely the sort of selfish, indecent conduct that has spawned a hatred of lawyers to rival that of pedophiles and insurance companies. Hopefully, they will receive their comeuppance sooner rather than later.

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