Saturday, August 4, 2012

Another Lawyer Tale

     "How many lawyers do you need to change a light bulb?" goes the old joke.
     "How many can you afford?" is the answer.
      Lawyer Number Four was on my payroll last September.  He proposed to help me out of the mess created by the previous lawyer, Curtis Fallgatter, who was suing me for an additional $67,000.  I had already paid him $20,000 but he said his work over a few weeks added up to a whopping $87,000--I hadn't been apprised until the bill was through the ceiling, too late to shout, "Stop!"
     "I guess my secretary is behind in sending out invoices," had been Mr. Fallgatter's apology.
     Lawyer Number Four was John Kiyonaga, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who claimed to have a lot of experience in federal criminal defense cases.  He was the one who had recommended Curtis Fallgatter in the first place, and now he said he was ashamed of his profession to see someone like Fallgatter posting astronomical charges like that.
     "I can't really afford another lawyer," I told him.  "But I don't have a choice."  It's against the law for an individual (like me) to defend a corporation (such as my clinic) in legal proceedings.  Therefore, I wasn't allowed represent myself, in case I was indicted, even if I wanted to.  And public defenders are assigned to individuals, but not to corporations.  The government had liquidated my bank accounts, so I didn't have the capital for an immediate legal defense, but it was illegal to represent myself, and as a corporation I didn't qualify for a public defender.  "That's how they like it," one lawyer told me.  "They want to strangle you."
     Mr. Kiyonaga proposed flying down to Gainesville for a few days to scope out the situation.  He wanted to look at Fallgatter's bills, but he'd also take a look at the office and try to figure out what on earth the FBI was doing.  He'd need a some money to get started--just enough to cover travel costs:  $5,000.
     I signed his retainer agreement, hoping for the best.  Then he flew into Gainesville Regional Airport and rented a car--and I found him sitting in a swivel chair in my back office one Tuesday morning.  I felt such relief:  here was someone smart to help me.  Here was someone from the nation's capital--surely he must understand how the government works.
     John Kiyonaga came highly recommended by a "friend-of-a-friend"--and now I know how that goes.
     He spent three days talking to me about his life.  He watched employees come in and out of my office:  they were searching for charts, asking me hurried questions about how to proceed with particular patients, needing x-rays interpreted "stat" for people with injuries or bad coughs.
     My time was divided.  How could I meet the needs of patients and staff, and still be around to update Mr. Kiyonaga about what we had experienced during and after the FBI raid on our clinic?
     Did he want to speak with some of the employees who had witnessed the raid?  No.
     Did he want a tour of the office?  No.
     Did he want to review the emails and invoices from Mr. Fallgatter?  My bookkeeper had printed them all out, and set the stack neatly in front of him.  He flipped through the pages with casual disinterest.  Not really.
     What about the court hearing we'd just had--the one requesting a return of patient records and working capital?  Shouldn't we obtain the court reporter's transcript?  He didn't think that would be much use.
     I'm not a lawyer--obviously I was clueless about how these things go.  Therefore, I'd let Mr. Kiyonaga do things his own way.  "Sorry," I said.  "I'm so used to telling people what to do.  Why don't you let me know what you need, and I'll get it for you?"
     "That sounds good," he said.
     He was hoping to find some special cigars, he said, to take back to DC as a souvenir.  Also, a Gator baseball cap for his son.  And did I know any good places to eat?
     He stayed three days and two nights.  He booked a room at the Holiday Inn, not far from my clinic,  but their restaurant wasn't great--he was accustomed to quality meals.  Why didn't we go out to lunch, he asked?
     "I never leave the office for lunch or dinner," I told him.  "It's way too busy.  I bring my meals from home."
     "Oh, come on, live it up a little!" he said.  "I'll buy you lunch."
     So we went out to lunch three days in a row, and dinner twice, and the paperwork piled up on my desk, and patients had to be turned away from the clinic so I could manage my "legal problems."
     "Let's not talk about business at the restaurant," Mr. Kiyonaga advised.  "It's not good for your digestion."  So we didn't.
     Instead I heard all about his frequent vacations to El Salvador--a beautiful country--where he indulged his obsession with the sport, polo.  I was also told the amusing, complex story of how he met his wife--very cute!--and learned that they were hoping, soon, to afford a farm in Virginia, where he might have cows and chickens.  Really, he was a country-boy at heart.  And his escapades with women, before he married, proved that he had made some genuine sacrifices to settle down and have a family.  The fun he'd had in college and law school, and the pranks he'd played with his buddies!  It was just too much--thank goodness he still kept up with those guys.  They were all important now, with top level posts, I could see that.
     "Do you want dessert," the server asked?
     "Oh, why not?"  he answered, leaning way back in his chair, his hands interlocked behind his head. We were having a good time.
     Before departing on the third day he said he'd get me an estimate for the cost of hiring him in my defense against the government.  He didn't know if he could go up against Mr. Fallgatter, though--something about professional courtesy, or integrity might get in the way.
     "I'm not going to gouge you on this trip," he told me.  "I mean, we're more like friends.  But I've got to cover my travel expenses."
     "Of course," I said.
     His expenses for the Gainesville excursion were $10,000--but he gave me a reduced rate, because we were "friends."  The invoice was for $8,700.
     He'd be happy to represent me against the government, too.  He couldn't say exactly how much it might cost, ultimately--"these things can really get prolonged."  But a retainer, for starters, of $120,000 would satisfy him.  "That'll get me up and running," he said.  "Then, we'll see how it goes."
     I looked at him blankly, and said good-bye.
     "It sure was nice meeting with you," he told me on the phone, once he got back to Washington.  "I'm looking forward to a fruitful professional relationship."