A Virginia legislator, faced with a lawsuit over his handling of a former client's legal case, sponsored special legislation in the 1977 General assembly to help that ex-client in her claim against the state for more than $51,000.
Details of the special legislation, submitted by State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), came to light today when a new attorney for the woman again pressed her claim for the money before the House Claims Committee. The committee regularly hears cases and makes monetary awards to Vieginia citizens on their relief and neglience complaints against the state. the client an elderly black woman from Hampton, is trying to get back $51,523 in cash she says was illegally confiscated from her in 1971 when police raided her home and arrested her for operating a numbers game. The charges were subsequently dropped, but the woman's money was given to the state's literary fund, according to court documents.
"I was closer to ir and knew what it was all about," said Wilder, when asked today why he sponsored a relief bill for his former client, Maggie Allen, who has since sued him for alleged mishandling of the property seizure case. "I didn't want her to think I'd do anything to keep her from bringin the case before the committee."
Wilder denied that his action represented a conflict of interest, saying that the woman's claim "doesn't matter a damn to me."
Wilder said he has filed a countersuit against Allen, charging harassment. Boh suits are pending.
Allen's new attorney, Michael Morrissey, told the committee today that Wilder made a crucial "error" in his handing of the case by not objecting in writing to a 1973 court order that dropped the charge against his lcient but claimed the right of the state to keep the confiscated money.
As a result, Morrisey said, Morriessey's subsequent court efforts to regain Allen's money have been thwarted, with more than one judge telling him that Allen's action should really be against her former lawyer, Wilder.
"I was trying to avoid pursuing a malpractice suit against a legislator," said Morrissey, who contacted Wilder at the start of the 1977 assembly session and sent him a copy of a court transcript indicating Allen's claim against her former attorney.
In a letter from Morrissey to wilder, dated Jan. 18, 1977, Morrissey wrote, "As you had suggested last summer and as we discussed again during our meeting... a bill again the state legislature would be a very appropriate resolution of this case."
Six days later, on Jan. 24, Wilder introduced a bill asking that Allen be repaid her confiscated money.
"He tried to threaten me," said Wilder, who said he only put in the bill "by request" and did not actively seek its passage or appear before the committee.
The Claims Committee, both in 1977 and again today, has refused to consider Allen's case, saying each time that she had failed to exhaust all other legal remedies. Informed today of Allen's suit against Wilder, one committeed member complained that the panel was being asked to rule on the case of "a defective attorney."
Morrissey, who said he plans to bring the Allen case before the committee again next year, expressed "shock" that Wilder hadn't worked harder two years ago on Allen's behalf.
"i thought he would talk to people down here (about the relief bill for Allen)," Morrissey sadi. "I was really shocked that he's done nothing. He wasn't even here when I came before the committee."
Morrissey, who said Allen lives an impoverished life in a decaying house, said the state "has no legal grounds to hold her money."
Today's relief bill for Allen was sponsored by Del. James F. Almand (D-Arlington), who said he introduced the measure at Morrissey's request after Morrissey, an Arlington attorney, couldn't get anyone else to sponsor the bill.
There were no committee guidelines that speak to conflict of interest situations on special relief bills, but its chairman, Del. Hardaway Marks (D-Hopewell) said members wee aware of Wilder's connections to the case.
Last year, the bar association publicly repromanded Wilder for failing to pursue properly another client's personal injury claim.