Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fighting Fallgatter

     The worst thing that can happen to a person under attack is for the people who are supposed to be helping, and those who are being paid to advocate on behalf of that person, to become attackers, too.  Even worse, is when they pretend to be helping.  Maybe the world is divided into people who favor the winning team, no matter what, and those who root for the underdog.  You probably know, or can imagine, how it feels to be kicked to the ground, and then for someone in a position of power, posing as an ally, to stomp on your hands as you try to get yourself up.
     Fallgatter, you may recall, is a lawyer who came on the scene shortly after my clinic was raided and my bank accounts seized.  The first order of business, I told him, was to get my patients' charts back, the second to get the government to return working capital so I wouldn't be forced to shut the clinic down, and the third to find out why the government had raided my place of business.  All information about the raid was "sealed," but our plan was supposed to be to persuade a judge to require the government to unseal it--or at least to inform me of the nature of the criminal acts I was (purportedly) committing, so I could stop committing them.
     In less than five days, Fallgatter had run through the $20,000 retainer he had required as advance payment to proceed as my counsel.  Although his retainer agreement, which I signed, stated that he would inform me when the retainer had been exhausted, he failed to do this until two weeks had passed, at which time he claimed he had accumulated $46,000 in charges, and needed an additional $26,000 from me if he were to proceed with filing a document with the court, requesting an emergency hearing about the facts in my case.
     If this isn't extortion, I don't know what is.  I didn't have $26,000 more, and couldn't borrow it from the same person who had loaned me the $20,000 retainer.  I didn't have enough money to pay wages to my staff, or the insurance premiums for their health coverage, or the bills for supplies I used to treat patients.
     "You have the money, I know you do!"  was Fallgatter's oft-repeated contention, as though it were sufficient grounds for being paid, rather than the work necessary to liberate me.
     Last week I deposed Fallgatter, and discovered that his perception of his role in my emergency was markedly different from mine.  He believed it was his duty to "investigate" the causes of the raid on my clinic himself, even though our plan was to inquire of the court the nature of the charges being entertained--which would have obviated the need for a private, lawyer-led investigation.  Fallgatter double and triple-billed for multiple assistants in his enthusiastic--and expensive--determination to find out what might be on the government's mind.  He charged exorbitant amounts for what turned out to be secretarial tasks, and he required three employees, including a lawyer-associate, to read emails I sent because he said he required a primer on medical billing and coding, having little or no knowledge of the nature of a medical business.  I wish he had informed me, prior to being retained, that he would need an entire education in third-party billing in the medical industry.  Instead, he rode on the coattails of having prevailed in a lawsuit for a medical supply company, and pretended to me that this constituted proof of his familiarity with cases against medical establishments.  I soon found out that he was ignorant of medical billing and coding.  When he told me, two weeks into his representation of me, that I would have to pay him an exorbitant amount for continuing to retain him, I realized that he had decided to charge me for teaching him what he needed to know to proceed in my case.
     There is irony in the fact that I have spent more than $30,000 in legal fees to defend myself against the outrageous charges Fallgatter levied, in the middle of my crisis, without forewarning me.  There is a breach of ethics in Fallgatter's having refused to withdraw from my case, when I insisted he do so the night he informed me, on the phone, that he needed $26,000 more in cash to continue to represent me.  There was a breach of his contract, because he didn't let me know when he had run through the retainer, five days after being hired.  Fallgatter also failed to tell me, before being retained, about his upcoming vacation to attend his niece's wedding, scheduled for exactly when I would need a lawyer most, at my emergency hearing.  He knew I wouldn't have hired him if I had known he would be out of town three weeks hence. He would not allow his associate to stand in his place for the hearing.
     By the time I asked Fallgatter to stop representing me, at the two-week mark when he told me how much more money he wanted--he hadn't even entered an appearance in court in my case.  He didn't tell me this, nor did he need to withdraw--he simply had to back off and allow me to find other counsel.  Instead, he continued to accumulate charges for every minute he spoke with me, including the dispute about his charges, including when I told him to stop working for me.  He continued to claim he was "investigating" a case that didn't need investigation until after the court determined whether the affidavits could be unsealed or not.  He continued to "work" until he said he was owed $86,000, and then he sued me for the $66,000 he had not yet received.  He knew this was equivalent to stomping on my hands while I was trying to get up.  He didn't care.  He wanted money, and he wanted it immediately.
     "You have the money!  I know you do!  Give me a lien on your property, if you won't pay me cash!"  he insisted.  Meanwhile, I cut  my staff in half, closed the clinic for two weeks to reorganize and save on expenses, reduced the hours of operation from 98 hours per week to 45, and wondered how Fallgatter could witness this and continue to claim the clinic had funds to pay him. 
     I am fighting Fallgatter on principle, now.  It has undoubtedly been one of his intentions to "break" me by forcing expenditures for a legal defense against him that may come close in cost to his own exaggerated claims for money owed.  Is the entire legal profession immune from attack, and outside requirements for sane, humanistic, ethical behavior?  Is there anyone else in this country who charges for every portion of every six-minute segment of time he or she spent thinking about, or "reviewing" thoughts about, or emailing, or reading emails, a given task?
     I have been advised by four lawyers to file Bar complaints against Fallgatter and his associate.  Why have I held off on this?  I feel an inherent prohibition against attacking others in this fashion, or "reporting" them, or suing them.  It's the reason I'm in trouble with Fallgatter, I suppose.  He knows I'm a rabbit, a chicken, a mouse, defenseless at heart, because I don't have the apparatus for cruelty or hatred.  I can't attack, not in truly deadly ways.  I'm a humanist.  It's no excuse, I know, and probably I deserve to pay handsomely for this flaw, given that the world is a deadly place, full of attackers, full of liars and cheaters and greedy lawyers, no place for the meek, no place for people who think we should help one another.  No place for someone like me, whose best friends, these days, happen to be a bunch of gentle, skittish chickens.
     I think I'll go out to see my chickens now, and check for eggs.  Then, I'm off to the Pretrial Conference, in Jacksonville, preparatory for a hearing, next week, in which a judge--who used to be a lawyer and who has probably known Fallgatter and maybe even been pals with him for decades--will decide whether Fallgatter's demands for money and lawsuit against me are a travesty or not.  I wonder how that will go?


  1. I was looking for a family doctor in my area and I found you story, I'm sorry for what you are going through.

  2. Always treat all lawyers as if their name was Fallgatter. The good ones will understand why, and they will earn your trust the old-fashioned way... with honest work and transparent practices.

  3. I will update you on the Curtis Fallgatter mess in a future post. It was a terrible experience of attorney greed and breach of ethics, in my opinion, and I would never recommend his law firm to anyone.