In Fight Over Fees, Judge Says Lawyer Can't Charge Exoneree Steven Phillips the Way He Did Others, Chides Both Sides

Categories: Legal Battles

steven phillips.jpg
Danny Fulgencio
Steven Phillips
Did high-powered, Lubbock personal injury attorney Kevin Glasheen do diddly-squat for the wrongfully imprisoned Steven Phillips, aside from filling out a one-page form with the State Comptroller? Or is Phillips an ungrateful client who stiffed his attorney on a $2 million legal bill, filed for $4 million in compensation through the state himself, then took the money and ran?

Judge Ken Molberg calls bull on both counts in an order dated Friday, replete with canonical literary references and Greek mythology, suggesting a growing impatience with the parties' posturing. But even more interesting is what a key ruling may mean for other exonerees who paid Glasheen millions.

First, a little background:

Phillips was locked up for 25 years on a string of rapes he didn't commit. He was paroled in 2007, and six months later the Innocence Project in New York convinced newly elected Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins to order DNA testing. In August 2007 he was officially exonerated of the crimes. Short on cash, he signed on with Glasheen, who was handling the cases of other Texas exonerees seeking more money -- through civil lawsuits and, finally, by lobbying the state legislature to increase the compensation rate, more than tripling the amount the state pays the wrongfully imprisoned.

But when the bill came due -- Glasheen wanted 25 percent of Phillips' $4 million -- he balked, firing the attorney and filing for compensation on his own. Phillips claimed he wanted to sue the city of Dallas all along. He didn't hire the lawyer to lobby. Glasheen says, 'Well, if that's the case, why did he file for compensation, which would have immediately foreclosed the possibility of a lawsuit?' (For a lengthier discussion of the fight, check this cover story.)

Particularly rankling to Phillips was the fact that the fee agreement Glasheen is seeking to enforce comes not just from the $2 million lump sum the exoneree was paid, but from a $2 million annuity paid out annually, and which is in no way guaranteed. If Phillips dies prematurely or is convicted of a felony -- and he was just charged with one in August for cocaine possession -- the annuity checks stop coming.

"That criminal charge underscores the point we've been making all along about the annuity," Phillips' attorney Randy Turner tells Unfair Park.

In Phillips's motion for partial summary judgement, he asked that Molberg rule against Glasheen taking part of his fee from the "present value" of the annuity, and the judge grants the motion in this order.

Glasheen says that at the time the contract was signed, there was no annuity provided for in the compensation statute. "Since Steven didn't agree to pay us that way, we're not claiming we have the right to get paid on the present value," he said, but noted that Molberg's order didn't necessarily prevent him from getting a fee on Phillips's annuity payments.

Turner wonders what this ruling means for the other exonerees who've already paid out millions -- half of which came from an annuity. "The judge told him he can't do that, which he did with eight or 10 other exonerees. I have two exoneree clients, Patrick Waller and James Giles. He charged them. He kept 25 percent of what they may someday in the future get."

But Molberg left key elements of the case for the jury, namely whether Phillips had good reason to fire Glasheen, and whether the lawyer committed fraud and breached his fiduciary duty.

"What is clear is this," Molberg begins in his colorful order below. "When one whittles through the often emotional bark to reach the hardwood of facts and law that actually underpin the outcomes of the parties' motions, neither side is so seriously blameless or blameworthy as portrayed. With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, this court is not affected by the colossal vitality by either of these Gatsby's illusions. To suggest, as Phillips does, that Glasheen was inconsequential in Phillips' now-more-than $2 million recovery and his anticipated recovery of $2 million more is imaginative, to say the least.

"Almost literally, Glasheen pulled Phillips' ox out of the ditch, and Phillips' lethean indulgence of the facts is unpersuasive. On the other hand, to argue, as Glasheen does, that Phillips has no basis for his positions here is equally unpersuasive."

The question, Molberg continues, comes down to this: Did Phillips fire Glasheen with good cause. No trial has been set, but that will be for a jury to decide.Order Regarding MULTIPLE Motions 10 03 11

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12 comments
Victoria Leah
Victoria Leah

Well written post.I appreciate your writing skills.Its great.You have made really a great job by sharing this post with us.I like this & would like to read your more updates.Keep in  touch with us in future too.

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colorado disability lawyer
colorado disability lawyer

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colorado disability lawyer
colorado disability lawyer

 The health care budget also includes $792 million to activate new health care facilities in Orlando, Fla., New Orleans, Denver and Las Vegas.

Almost $400 million is flagged for continued construction on medical units in St. Louis, Dallas, Seattle and Palo Alto, Calif.The proposed VA

budget also includes funding for a new jobs program called the Veterans Jobs Corps. This new initiative is designed to leverage skills that

veterans attained during military service for a variety of jobs in the United States. The Veterans Jobs Corps could put as many as 20,000 veterans

to work here rebuilding or restoring public lands.

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accident attorney houston

The fee is too much. Also, the court of appeals will have to do about this one.All of this is a result of the 'accidental jurists' election 6 years ago. 

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Injury Law Firm

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WLC TEX
WLC TEX

Lawyer vs nose-candy fan.  I don't care which one "wins".

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Another ambulance chaser getting called out, I respect that. The less of them out there, the better. Also, why doesnt the state bar actively pursue these people and put some financial pain upon them??

Mitzvah601
Mitzvah601

This is bullshit. See what happened to Federal Judge in Austin for being 'cute' in his opinions.  Was slapped down by his superiors. This is a sophomoric attempt to push the parties to a settlement (i.e. squeeze the exonerated guy).  The fee is outrageous and unfortunately the court of appeals will have to slap this lubbock lawyer down. All of this is a result of the 'accidental jurists' election 6 years ago. 

Fletch
Fletch

If I was sent to prison for something I never did and then was to be given a substantial sum of money dependent on my ability to stay out of trouble, I think I'd try really, really hard to make that happen.  I guess not everyone thinks that way.  It seems like such a shame to throw away all that money on a freaking drug possession charge.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

You know, I don't condone drug use, but like FU said, he probably went in an innocent man and came out a possible user. Could you imagine being locked up for 25 years for somethign you didn't do? For me, that's not worth $2 million, $4 million, $100 million. I don't know the guy or what he's like, but I empathize for him. If he has the need or want to light up or snort up, I'll leave that up to him in knowing that if he's caught he'll have the same consequences as a first time offender.

Facebook User
Facebook User

While we shouldn't forgive Steven's current bad acts (i.e. cocaine possession) I think we should realize that being locked up in prison for 25 years (rightly or wrongly) changes you. If Steven wasn't a drug addict when he went in it wouldn't surprise me he was when he came out. 'Trying really hard' to stay out of trouble is pretty hard for someone who had to fight everyday in prison to stay alive. Really sad case all around.

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