Page 2 of 2   <      

High-priced lawyer sues former client, then agrees to pay him $102,000

Lewis said Firestone was a difficult client, presenting numerous problems, and that comparing one side's legal bills with the other's is unfair. Firestone had tax problems, problems with his law practice, bookkeeping difficulties, suffered from depression and was intent on revenge against his wife, Lewis said.

But DiMuro said, "This was a garden-variety divorce with a modest estate for this area. No child custody issues. Their incomes were modest." Besides their house in Fairfax County, the Firestones owned a small office condo and a few other assets. Firestone also had a $1.1 million inheritance from his parents, DiMuro said, which Lewis successfully kept separate from the marital estate.

Lewis said that's a simplistic analysis. "This case presented so many more issues that were bigger than getting unmarried," he said. "I had the high maintenance client." He said Firestone signed a contract acknowledging that multiple lawyers might work on his case and that he had 30 days to challenge a bill, which he never did.

One of Firestone's quirks was his heated denial that his wife had cancer, Lewis claimed. Lewis said he never really pursued the issue, and the case ended in July 2004. But several years later, in a casual conversation with Duff, he learned that Beverly Firestone had died of cancer not long after the divorce.

"My head exploded," Lewis said. "I was sickened by that. I was horrified to think the case accelerated that. Nothing is more stressful than a divorce case. Stress kills."

So, he sued Steve Firestone in October 2009.

Firestone said he never told Lewis his wife didn't have cancer. "I told him I wondered if it was a ploy to increase my alimony exposure," Firestone said.

In pretrial discovery, DiMuro obtained billing records for all of Lewis's cases, not just the Firestone case. He found examples of days where Lewis billed for 39 hours; 31 hours; 40 hours; 71 hours.

Lewis said that was the result of "block billing," in which he entered the time for many days all at once.

In a 16-month period in 2003 and 2004, DiMuro calculated in court records, Lewis billed his clients for 3,620 hours, or an average of 226 hours per month, or 7.4 hours per day, 365 days per year.

Lewis said he worked nights and weekends, in addition to his bar duties and television hosting.

As the suit progressed in Fairfax Circuit Court, Lewis's lawyers angered Fairfax judges by failing to respond to basic requests and orders. The judges started slapping Lewis's lawyers with financial sanctions. First $2,000. Then another $2,000. Then $5,000, $7,500 and finally a $10,515 hit after Lewis failed to appear for his deposition last month.

Lewis said his lawyer, Michael P. Freije, had released him from appearing, although he had been subpoenaed. Freije told Judge David S. Schell there had been a misunderstanding, but Schell was clearly upset and ordered Lewis to appear in DiMuro's office the following week as well as pay the highly unusual fifth court-imposed sanction.

Lewis said he couldn't be there, because of family obligations. Rather than defy the court, he said, he agreed to pay Firestone and settled the case.


<       2

© 2010 The Washington Post Company