He was one of the legal giants of the Washington area, a former president of the Virginia Bar Association, an acknowledged dean of the divorce bar. Now, lawyers around the region are wondering: Where is Glenn Lewis?
The cracks in Lewis’s facade first widened in 2010, when he sued one of his own clients for more than $500,000 in fees and interest, after the client had already paid him $378,000 for a routine divorce. In the end, Lewis ended up paying the client more than $102,000.
Now Lewis, 59, has mostly vanished from the legal scene. His spacious law office in downtown Washington has closed. He has been accused recently of taking clients’ money, doing nothing for them and refusing to return the money. After a sheaf of bar complaints was filed against him, he did not respond to a Virginia State Bar subpoena, and last week his law license was suspended. He faces legal judgments of more than $1 million. His house in Oakton has been foreclosed upon. Finally last week, Lewis filed for bankruptcy.
Lewis hired criminal defense lawyer Peter D. Greenspun to fend off some of the allegations, and Greenspun said Tuesday that “While taking care of so many, Glenn tragically did not do the same for himself while suffering with devastating mental and physical health disorders.” He declined to discuss the disorders, but said that Lewis is “working hard at getting well and back to the point of being productive and able to help others again.” Lewis has not been charged with any crimes and Greenspun said he was helping Lewis as a friend, not a defense attorney.
It’s been a stunning collapse for the colorful and outspoken Lewis, who proudly declared his hourly rate of $850 to be one of the highest anywhere, and who had an active law practice as recently as November.
For years, Lewis was featured in an ethics video shown to all new Virginia lawyers. He hosted his own cable TV show and appeared regularly as a legal expert on television news shows. His clients included former Redskin John Riggins, talk show host John McLaughlin, hairdresser Andre Chreky and Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson. His now-defunct Web page declared that he deserved “credit for ground breaking developments in family law,” that he had received George Mason law school’s distinguished achievement award and the Virginia State Bar’s lifetime achievement award in family law.
Signs that things had gotten really bad for Lewis first appeared in late October, when a Dumfries man sued Lewis in Alexandria Circuit Court. The man, James Pettorini, said he paid Lewis $25,000 to represent him in a domestic matter, having to borrow the money to pay Lewis’s fee.
But Lewis didn’t show up for his client’s hearing, lost the hearing for Pettorini in late September, then dodged Pettorini’s calls and e-mails in October, according to the lawsuit. Lewis still hasn’t returned Pettorini’s money, and an Alexandria judge entered a default judgment against Lewis last week. A civil fraud trial against Lewis is pending.
Things got worse for Lewis. T.D. Bank took over a $1 million loan that Lewis had obtained from BB&T Bank years ago and entered a judgment in Fairfax in November for $890,000. A Sterling company that loaned Lewis $150,000 in 2009 filed suit in Fairfax seeking $53,000. And a former family friend who loaned Lewis $180,000 in 2009 obtained a default judgment against the lawyer last month in Alexandria for $160,000.
The legal filings indicated that Lewis’s home just off Chain Bridge Road in the Oakton area had been abandoned. In November, I drove over to see if anyone was home. Sure enough, the front yard was overgrown and the mailbox taped shut. A woman drove down the long driveway after packing up her sport-utility vehicle and introduced herself as Lewis’s wife, Kimberly. She was familiar with my name from my 2010 article on her husband. She said they no longer lived there.
Kimberly Lewis gave me her husband’s cell phone number. The voice mail greeting says that “This is November the first,” goes on and assures you your call will be returned. The greeting hasn’t been updated since. He has not returned my messages.
One of the lawyers pursuing Glenn Lewis, again, is Ben DiMuro. DiMuro also represented Steve Firestone, the man whom Lewis sued for $500,000 in fees in 2010. DiMuro dug through Lewis’s records and alleged overbilling and exaggeration in Firestone’s case, and was prepared to go to trial against Lewis before Lewis backed down.
DiMuro is a former president of the Virginia State Bar, the mandatory regulatory association of all Virginia lawyers. Lewis is a former president of the Virginia Bar Association, a voluntary association. I went to a hearing in Alexandria last month, on the Pettorini case, to see the showdown between DiMuro and Lewis, with Greenspun, another legal luminary, in the middle.
Lewis didn’t show. In a conference at the bench, Greenspun asked for more time, DiMuro said, telling the judge Lewis was suffering from depression and was “so impaired that he was unable to assist in his own defense.”
The judge granted a two-week continuance, to no avail. Lewis still didn’t show, and DiMuro won a default judgment for Pettorini last week and the right to take Lewis to trial for fraud for additional damages. Soon after, DiMuro received notice of Lewis’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, which indicates that Lewis has moved into another decent-sized residence in Oakton.
DiMuro has been dogged in his pursuit of Lewis, in part because of a sense of outrage at how he has treated his clients, and in part because his actions hurt the reputations of lawyers everywhere. He said he is aware of at least one other client who claims he paid Lewis and received nothing.
“In one fell swoop,” DiMuro said, “one lawyer destroys all of the good things that 30,000 lawyers in Virginia do. Community activities, Hispanic outreach, any number of great things. It irritates the [heck] out of me.”
What if Lewis is truly suffering from mental health problems? DiMuro said Lewis hasn’t put forward any proof of a psychological situation. He said he didn’t know what might have put Lewis into such a dramatic tailspin.
Greenspun said that Lewis is “a man who has contributed many thousands of hours to the Bar, his community and those in the metropolitan area... This has been a horribly difficult period for Glenn Lewis and his family... There is a great lesson for all who work too hard, too many hours, and don’t care for themselves or understand the warning signs of personal decline. One only has to look at this man and what has occurred to see why we all need to take more care. To those who see these traits in others, the lesson is to do something; so that we all do not see one who is capable of so much be at such a point of devastation.”