By Dick LaFontaine
Family Court attorney Edward Nusbaum of Westport, Connecticut, has some curious ideas about the good practice of law, according to recently filed court documents.
Could Connecticut Attorney Edward Nusbaum be in trouble?
Dangerous Retainer Agreement?
Nusbaum has clients sign what may be an illegal and unethical retainer agreement.
He charges $750 per hour for work he cannot or will not document.
According to an examination of claims made against him, when clients ask Nusbaum to show what work he did for his billings, he refuses to provide discovery.
A special clause in his retainer agreement, he says, prevents them from suing him in court. They have to settle the dispute in arbitration.
And, the arbitrators must be family court attorneys who practice in the same county Nusbaum practices family law – Fairfield County.
A former Nusbaum client fights for her file
A former client, Karen Riordan, claims Nusbaum violated the Rules of Professional Conduct governing Connecticut Lawyers.
Riordan claims the public needs to be protected from attorneys like Nusbaum.
Riordan writes in a filing: “Attorney discipline does not punish the attorney, but rather safeguards the administration of justice and protects the public from the misconduct or unfitness of those who are members of the legal profession.”
Karen Riordan alleges her former lawyer, Edward Nusbaum of Westport, Connecticut, is an “Attorney-Predator.”
The dispute between Nusbaum and Riordan arises from his legal representation in Riordan’s divorce case. Riordan paid Nusbaumin about $100,000, the bulk of it was deposited in escrow for work he was to do.
She was shocked when Nusbaum told her he had used up the entire retainer. He had not gone to court once or filed a single court motion.
She said she wanted her money back.
Nusbaum still had $64,000 of Riordan’s money in his escrow account. He wanted her to approve of releasing that to him.
Riordan wanted an accounting – what did he do for $100,000? She refused to sign a release.
Nusbaum sued Riordan to transfer the money from his escrow account to his own bank account.
Nusbaum has a provision in his retainer agreements that says disputes do not go to court, but to arbitration. And arbitrators must be fellow family law attorneys in the same county as Nusbaum – Fairfield County.
There are a limited number of attorneys practicing family law in Fairfield County, and for the most part, they know each other.
Riordan claims Nusbaum’s retainer contract is “patently unethical, predatory, and illegal.”
Her biggest gripes are that the retainer has an arbitration clause that does not permit discovery, and he will not give her a copy of her own file.
Nusbaum billed Riordan almost $100,000 – for emails and phone calls. He will provide no proof that he made the calls or sent emails.
Some phone calls on his bills were made to people who had no connection to the case. Other phone calls seem padded as to time.
Several phone calls were made to others to find out how much money Riordan had – seeking to learn about her assets and family wealth.
There was a raft of calls, which no one can figure out why he made them. And emails he billed her for writing, which she has never seen and may have never been sent.
Even if they were sent, the purpose of the emails is unclear. She has only his good word for the time he spent composing them and that they had a purpose.
Then, there are all the phone calls to the opposing attorney and the Guardian ad Litem.
He must have had a lot to say at $750 per hour to the other attorney [billing her client at $650 per hour] and the GAL [billing both parties at $450 per hour].
All three of them know each other and have multiple cases together. It would surprise no one to learn that Nusbaum billed more than one client for the same phone call.
But, we cannot know for certain. His retainer says “no discovery.” Riordan cannot see his phone records, or his emails made on her behalf.
If his retainer is legal, she can’t sue, and can’t get discovery. She can’t even get her file.
According to Nusbaum, all she can do is go to arbitration, where a Fairfield County family law attorney will hear the matter – without evidence.
Nusbaum told Frank Report, “let her take me to court. I will win and get all the money and, on top of that, get lawyer costs from her. She will end up owing me more money than the money I have in escrow.”
When asked how he could be so sure he would win, Nusbaum said, “I’ve never lost one yet.”
The case will be hard to prove without discovery and without her file.
How can Riodan prove he did not make $100,000 worth of calls and emails over a couple of months? Nusbaum never went to court. He did file a court document once.
Nusbaum filed a court document to ensure he was paid directly from the proceeds of the forced sale of Riodan’s house. He spent a lot of time on the phone with the opposing attorney, the GAL, the real estate agent, and others to arrange that Riordan paid him for more billings.
Nusbaum has a solid legal team around him. He is represented by attorney Alexander Trembicki, of the law firm of Lynch, Trembicki & Boynton. Nusbaum also relies on attorney Harold W. Haldeman, co-author of, “A History of the First One Hundred Years of the Connecticut Bar Association,” published in the Connecticut Bar Journal.
Attorney Alexander Trembicki of the Westport, Connecticut, Lynch, Trembicki & Boynton law firm represents Attorney Edward Nusbaum.
“Attorney Nusbaum’s engagement letter shows intent and a plan to veil his attorney misconduct, legal malpractice, and fraudulent and tortuous conduct in ‘mandatory’ arbitration proceedings. It is well established that contracts that violate public policy are unenforceable,” Riordan wrote in recent court papers filed in a Stamford, Connecticut court.
Attorney Nusbaum believes his contract protects him.
The lawyer previously told Frank Report, “If the client doesn’t want to sign it, I won’t represent her.”
Dick LaFontaine chases gripping, thorny, and precarious stories around the world as a correspondent for the Frank Report.