Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Curtis Fallgatter and Me

     I write this as a warning to anyone who may be thinking of retaining Curtis Fallgatter to represent him or her in a lawsuit. 
     This is the story of my experience with Mr. Fallgatter, and it isn't a good one.
     I borrowed $20,000 from a friend to retain Mr. Fallgatter, and I told him it was all I had. 
     My clinic had been raided and all my cash seized by the government.  I needed a lawyer who could petition the court for an emergency hearing, asking for three things:  1) to get my patients' records given back;  2) to return some cash, so I could pay salaries and bills;  and 3) to unseal affidavits so I might know why my clinic had been raided.
     "It's a pretty simple motion to file," one lawyer told me.  "Standard business."
     Mr. Fallgatter turned "simple" into a mountain, and then started to scale it.
     Within five days of being hired he had spent $21,000.  But he didn't bother to tell me--he knew I would have dismissed him then and there. 
     Wouldn't you fire a lawyer who spent $21,000 in five days, for a routine job?
     Mr. Fallgatter told me at the outset that he would be available to write and defend the motion I needed, and he understood it was an emergency.  He also said he had experience in healthcare law. 
     But, in fact, he knew very little about healthcare, and depended on me to teach him.  In the course of explaining how a clinic works, via emails to him, I ended up writing most of the legal document we filed myself, because he copied and pasted what I sent him directly into the motion.
     Mr. Fallgatter drove 45 miles to see my clinic, once-- then, en route, he told me he had two other people with him--another lawyer and a detective, added to my payroll.  They spent that day doing work one person could have done--and soliciting free advice from me about their personal medical issues.
     Two weeks later, hen the Motion for an Emergency Hearing was completed Mr. Fallgatter told me he wouldn't file it at the courthouse. 
     "Why not?"
     "You have an outstanding balance."
     "I do?  Why didn't you tell me?"
     "My secretary must be behind on her billing."
     "How much?"
     "You owe $26,000 more."
     "$46,000 to write this motion?  Are you kidding?  It's only been two weeks."
     "I worked hard for you!  Don't you think I did a good job?"
     "I'll file the motion myself.  Please withdraw from the case."
     "Don't you think I did a good job?  I did a good job for you.  I worked hard."
     "You need to withdrawal from the case first thing in the morning, and I'll file the motion myself."
     But Mr. Fallgatter didn't withdraw from the case.  
     As it turns out, he hadn't even entered an appearance, so he wouldn't have had to withdraw--but I didn't know that then.  He declined to tell me, because he wanted to stay on my case so he could continue to bill.
     The next day, when he said he wasn't withdrawing, I told him to file the motion immediately--which takes minutes to do.  Turns out,  I couldn't file it myself, because of a rule he hadn't mentioned, that an individual can't represent a corporation.   
     When I looked at the motion he ended up filing, it was different from the "final draft" he had sent me.  Mr. Fallgatter had changed it without telling m, by inserting a request that the judge schedule my "emergency" hearing two weeks later, so he could go on vacation. 
     "You didn't tell me you had a vacation planned!"
     "My niece is getting married."
     "Therefore, you knew about it when I hired you."
     "Yes, well, I did."
     "Why didn't you tell me."
     "It must have slipped my mind."
     "But my situation is urgent.  You should have told me you wouldn't be here."
     "We have a date for the hearing--aren't you glad?"
     "No!  The judge would have scheduled it in a day or two, if it hadn't been for your request--and you changed the motion behind my back.  This makes my 'emergency' look like a joke."
     What kind of "emergency" can wait several weeks?
     I tried to file a motion for an earlier hearing, but it wasn't accepted--by now, Mr. Fallgatter was the attorney of record.
     Therefore, I was forced to close my clinic for two weeks. Without funds, I couldn't pay my staff.  Mr. Fallgatter didn't even have a partner he could substitute in order for the hearing could proceed earlier.  He had a good time at his niece's wedding in Maryland.
     At the hearing a few weeks later, Mr. Fallgatter failed to convince the judge of the merits of my requests.  The FBI got to keep the reasons for the raid secret, they kept the clinic's medical charts, and didn't return any funds
     The hearing took six hours.  Afterward, Mr. Fallgatter said his bill had ballooned to $86,000.  Therefore, I now owed him $66,000.   Perhaps he's planning another vacation--a trip or two around the world.
     His invoices made no sense.  My two current lawyers, who had been present at the hearing in preparation for substituting for Mr. Fallgatter immediately afterward, looked at the charges and said they were outrageous--an embarrassment to the legal profession.
     Mr. Fallgatter has been counting on the fact that I am under terrific stress.  He assumed I would pay--even a huge sum--just to get him out of the way.  "I did a good job!" and "You have the money!  I know you have it!" he kept saying, to justify the bill. 
     For the past year, his partner has been representing him in his lawsuit to get money from me.  Mr. Fallgatter has arranged things so that his expenditures are minimal, and mine are big.  That's why he's doing this.  He doesn't have a lot to lose, but he can make me spend more on my defense against him.
     Would I recommend Curtis Fallgatter to anyone?  No.  Would I say he is fair, honest, and sensitive?  No.  Does he communicate about matters of importance to his client, such as his availability or the massive accumulation of charges?  No.  Does he care about money more than anything?  I'd better not comment--we have a hearing set for April.
     Even if I happened to be Donald Trump, no ethical lawyer would triple-bill for services, or inflate the amount of work he's been hired to do, or conceal his charges way past depletion of the retainer, until they become unaffordable. 
     A lawyer shouldn't refuse to withdraw from a case when he's fired, nor should he fail to tell his client he hasn't even entered an appearance.  A good lawyer doesn't take advantage of his client's misfortune to maximize his own profits--any more than a doctor should charge eight and a half times as much as is customary and reasonable for chemotherapy, just because he believes his patient, who has cancer, will feel desperate enough to borrow the money, and can be browbeaten into paying.
     Two lawyers have told me not to write about this, it might "hurt my case" at trial, where we're headed in April (a spurious attempt at mediation didn't work, last week).  Another two have said it's fine to write--Fallgatter has been unethical, and people should be warned.  The lawyer, Kiyonaga, who recommended Fallgatter in the first place, is angry because I wrote about him in my blog, after he rode in on his white steed and said he'd help but in fact hauled off a retainer of his own without even reading the pleadings on the case-- then disappeared with the booty.  Two more said I ought to file a complaint with the Florida Bar.  Another told me not to write to the Bar, because its members don't handle disputes over money. 
     But this is more than a dispute over money.  It's about someone kicking a client who's been wounded, instead of helping, and rifling through the pockets of the client's jacket on the battlefield, taking as much cash as possible, not what's been earned.  It's about a lawyer petitioning for a case to be heard in his home town, where the judge might be a friend, and repeating like a broken music box that he's worked hard, and deserves all that money, when the motion itself doesn't look that valuable.  It's about a lawyer thinking he can get away with all this, because it's worked, I suppose, in the past. 
     Let's hope that the judges here can act with integrity--since lawyers like Fallgatter can't.


  1. I applaud you for removing that negative post. Anonymous’ behavior is of an offensive nature with intent to threaten, disturb, and upset. The content of each post is characteristically repetitive and has been plum stupid. The attacks can be characterized as nothing other than a persistent annoyance meant to create hostile interaction of the meanest kind.

  2. It is likely that Anonymous is mentally ill. I hope he/she recognizes this and asks for help.

  3. This Anonymous is only an occasional annoyance. There is still some debate about my mental state.

    It appears that the government is cracking down on doctors that actually understand the rules of medical billing and coding. It appears that Dr. Colasante wasn't "gaming" the system, but using her understanding of the rules to her patients' benefit.

    Dr. Colasante didn't make the rules, she tried to live within the rules. It's almost as if the government advertised an all-you-can-eat buffet and then told you when they thought you had enough.