Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Nuisance Lawsuit That Won't Go Away

     It's been a while since I wrote about the first lawyer I hired to find out why the federal government raided my clinic. 
     He's a federal defense lawyer in Jacksonville, and his name is Curtis Fallgatter.  I had been given his name by an old college friend, who got the name, in turn, from a D.C. lawyer-friend, whose brother had once worked in Jacksonville and thought Fallgatter might be good.  My friend loaned me the money for a retainer, saying Fallgatter seemed like a good bet.
     It was a flimsy reference, but it was better than jotting down names from magnets stuck to the fronts of telephone books, or searching the web for advertisements posted by law firms.  Besides, time was pressing in on me:  I needed someone to present my clinic's case at the Alachua County Courthouse, to get the government to open its affidavits and tell me what I was doing wrong.  Otherwise, I'd have to close the clinic, reduce staff, reorganize the budget, cave in...or something. 
     Fallgatter was polite and ready to get to work immediately, stating that he had other clients, but no urgent cases on his schedule.  He wanted $20,000 up front, and told me he'd discount his usual hourly fee--$475/hour--to $425/hour just for me. 
     Together, we wrote the "Motion for an Emergency Hearing for the Return of Patient Records, Clinic Working Capital, and Opening of the Affidavits," using emails and telephone calls.  I educated Fallgatter about the business of medicine, and he explained mechanics of the federal court system to me.  One day, Fallgatter drove to Gainesville to see my office and interview some of my employees.  He brought along a colleague from his firm, Mark Barnett, as well as a retired detective.  In two or three weeks the Motion was finished, and ready to be filed with the court.  I hoped for an immediate hearing, since my bank account had no money to pay staff, the lease, the employee insurance plan, or bills for supplies.  The FBI had confiscated all the money in my personal and clinic bank accounts, so that checks were bouncing.
     "I can't file the motion," Fallgatter told me one evening.  I had been pressing him for days to have it delivered to the judge, so we could set a date for a hearing.  It looked fine to me, but he said the motion needed more work.
     "Why can't you file it?"  I asked.
     "You owe me more money."
     "I paid you $20,000."
     "You owe me more," he said.
     "You mean the retainer is depleted, after a couple of weeks?"
     "It's expensive to do this kind of work."
     "But $20,000 was more than enough to write the motion," I said.  "And filing it now is a clerical task."
     "I can't file it without more money," he said.
     "It's just a matter of getting it to the courthouse!"
     "But you have a balance to pay."
     "How much more?"
     "You mean, writing this motion has cost $46,000?"
     "I've worked hard for you.  This is a complicated case."
     "You're not investigating the case," I argued.  "You're filing a motion to find out what the case is about, so I know where to go from here."
     "I expect to handle your case until the very end.  It could be a long time."
     "Why didn't you let me know when the retainer ran out?"
     "My secretary is a little behind in getting statements printed."
     "How could you accumulate charges like this--knowing the government forfeited my bank accounts--and not tell me?"
     "Can't you borrow more money from your friend?"  Fallgatter asked.  "I'm sure you can get it."
     Because he was the attorney of record, and because it is forbidden for an individual to file a motion on behalf of a business, Fallgatter did end up filing the motion for my emergency hearing, but not before arguing with me for a few more days about the money he said he was owed, then asking the judge for a two-week  postponement of the "emergency" hearing, so he could attend his niece's wedding--a commitment he hadn't mentioned when I hired him.  If he had, I would have found another lawyer, because it wasn't a postponement I could afford.  I reduced my staff to half, and closed the clinic for two weeks to make a plan.
     Now, Fallgatter claims his services, which were canceled immediately after the hearing, cost $87,000.  Since I only paid the $20,000 retainer, he is suing me for the remainder. 
     Four other lawyers tell me that his charges are outrageous, and insupportable.  One said it's an embarrassment to the profession.  Another said not to pay him another dime.  Two are acting as fact witnesses, and another is defending me in this new case against Fallgatter.  A fifth is reviewing the invoices in detail, and will act as an expert witness.
     The hearing about Fallgatter's charges is scheduled in Jacksonville for the end of February. 
     I'm sure Fallgatter's intent is to overwhelm me with legal threats, so I'll pay him just to get him out of the way. 
     He's certainly doing his part.  Every day I am bombarded with emails about the Fallgatter case, and notices of depositions, and motions to cancel, and motions to override, and motions to change dates, and motions to call witnesses, and requests for documents and dockets and statements and agreements.  I read them, and try to pretend this is happening to someone else, because I have to keep seeing patients, and figuring out what's wrong with them, and writing prescriptions to last until they find another doctor, and make sure all the coding and documentation is correct. 
     And I have to administer last rites to my dying clinic.

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