Family court attorney Edward Nusbaum of Westport, CT is under investigation. His problem is that he uses an allegedly illegal retainer agreement he makes clients sign.
Whatever he does, whatever he bills, his clients must not question it. At $750 per hour, that is a little rich. And may be criminal if there is fraud.
Recently CT Superior Court Judge Charles Lee said Nusbaum’s manner of signing up clients was odd, if not illegal. The tricky part is that Nusbaum’s retainer agreement requires the client to waive discovery in case of a dispute over his billings.
Nusbaum told Frank Report, “If the client doesn’t want to sign it, I won’t represent her.”
The issue might be more complex. A client must have informed consent, and a lawyer can’t merely insert illegal or unethical language into a retainer agreement. An ethical attorney cannot cheat or deceive an unsuspecting client, especially if the client is a vulnerable spouse or parent involved in a highly charged and emotional divorce and custody dispute.
Former Hollywood screenwriter Christopher Zoro Ambrose, fired for plagiarism, often poses online as a barber to lure men and possibly boys.
Let’s take the example of the divorce and custody case of Christopher Zoro Ambrose v Karen Beth Riordan.
Nusbaum represented Riordan and billed her more than $100,000 in just four months.
Here is Nusbaum’s retainer agreement:
The retainer language appears illegal on the surface. It says:
We agree that any and all disputes between you, the Firm and/or its employees shall be adjudicated by one arbitrator who shall be an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Connecticut, and who shall be a member of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Family Law Section, and who shall maintain offices in Fairfield County….
You, this Firm and its employees expressly agree to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator/panel, and we agree to waive the right to conduct discovery during the arbitration, and to a trial by a Court or a jury concerning any dispute that we may have.
Not only is there no discovery, but his retainer requires the arbitrator to be a fellow family law attorney practicing in Fairfield County, where Nusbaum practices.
Another questionable provision in the retainer is that Nusbaum, knowing his language is suspect if not illegal, adds, “Prior to signing this Agreement, you should consult with an attorney concerning the above-referenced terms.”
Got to be in Fairfield?
Why would a lawyer, subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct, advise a client to hire counsel to review his services contract? If Nusbaum is honest, why advise a client to hire a lawyer to review Nusbaum’s terms?
Nusbaum, 4th from left, with fellow attorneys.
Imagine hospitals withholding medical treatment for failure to waive discovery in malpractice suits. Or a car mechanic who advises drivers to hire another mechanic to review the details of an oil change.
Billing Big, With Possible Fraud
Once Nusbaum got the retainer signed by the vulnerable client, he went to town, billing the daylights out of her, thinking she could not get discovery.
His invoices show phone calls and emails to lawyers and others as the only service. There are no motions, no briefs, no filings, no court appearances, no depositions, no discovery, no proposed orders, nothing but time spent on the phone for $750/hr.
Many emails and phone calls were to the opposing attorney and the GAL, who were billing hourly themselves.
It was a feeding frenzy.
Nusbaum provides no information on the results or necessity of the phone calls or emails.
Some of Nusbaum’s calls were made to people not associated with the case. Other calls were made to people who would testify that he called to find out how much money his client or her family had and where her assets were.
When his client pressed to go to court, Nusbaum demanded another $100,000. Considering he had done nothing with the first $100,000 of billings, his client declined.
He is now suing for the money.
Riordan refused to pay his giant bill for virtually no services rendered.
All seemed well until Judge Lee raised his illegal contract. Nusbaum charged over $100,000 and delivered nothing. And he won’t provide discovery?
Riordan argues that under Connecticut law, professionals can’t contract away certain prospective malpractice. Riordan seems headed toward a malpractice lawsuit. If she does, the arbitration and no discovery clauses are toilet paper.
Who knows what discovery will uncover?
Did Nubaum even make the phone calls he said he made? If he did, what did he accomplish?
Will Nusbaum argue his $100k produced any tangible work product?