Sandra Ferguson was the subject of our Case Law Update in 2011. Now she re-appears in this new case, involving a fee dispute among law firms.
Ms. Ferguson was representing parties in an employment discrimination case in 2009. She arranged for co-counsel to help cover the costs and because she anticipated her suspension from the practice of law. (That suspension was the reason we discussed her in 2011.) Stephen Teller was the lawyer who got the job. The fees were over $530,000, so of course there was a fee dispute between Ferguson and Teller over how to divide the money. Ferguson hired Brian Waid to represent her against Teller. Ferguson then threatened to sue Waid for malpractice, so he withdrew and filed an attorney’s lien for $78,000 on the “proceeds”, i.e., the $530,000 contingent fee.
Ferguson argued, and the trial court agreed, that the lien couldn’t attach to the proceeds because the proceeds already existed before Waid was hired. Not so fast, said the Court of Appeals. “Proceeds” means any monetary sum received in the action. Since Ferguson received a portion of the contingent fee, she received “proceeds” to which Waid’s lien could attach.
The issue of attorney’s liens is beyond the scope of our presentation. But the Court of Appeals pointed out that old cases which implied that an attorney had to obtain a judgment against a client were not applicable under the current version of the lien statute, RCW 60.40.010.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski practice family law in Olympia, Washington with the law firm of Connolly Tacon & Meserve.