Sharyn Tarason wrote her attorney a letter questioning the fee he had charged for representing her in a divorce.
His response said, in part:
"I frankly don't give a damn about what you think about my charge . . . . So its (sic) time to cut the crap."
Instead of using a more traditional closing such as "sincerely yours" or "yours truly," the lawyer signed off his letter with these words: "No appropriate close available."
Sharyn Tarason had tangled with Martin Fogel, a lawyer who practices in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Fogel, 46, was reprimanded by the Virginia Bar in 1977 for letting a client spend an unnecessary four months in jail. In 1978 the D.C. Bar reprimanded him for neglecting a case, and currently he is the subject of a D.C. disciplinary proceeding that could result in a one-year suspension from law practice.
The latter case has been before the D.C. Court of Appeals for nearly nine months. Despite Fogel's failure to oppose the proceedings before that panel, it has taken no action on the matter. Meanwhile, he continues to practice law.
Tarason said her experiences with Fogel had been "frustrating" and described the 1 1/2 years he represented her as "worse than the marriage" that Fogel was hired to help her dissolve. She has complained to several bar groups about his recent actions.
Fogel, meanwhile, said the matter was a simple fee dispute and that he chose the language he used in the letter because he had known Tarason's family for years. "I was speaking to the young lady as someone who was speaking to a friend. I didn't think it was the proper matter for mincing words," Fogel said.
Fogel said the Tarason incident was unrelated to the matters involved in his previous reprimands or pending disciplinary actions.
Persons familiar with the disciplinary processes of various bars said yesterday the past Fogel incidents show the complexities of disciplining lawyers and the laxity with which alleged misconduct by lawyers is often dealt. l
In addition, the disciplinary sources noted that the pending Fogel case shows the need for a court to take reasonably swift action in dealing with any lawyer disciplinary action to prevent possible harm to future clients if the lawyer is found to have committed a pattern of questionable acts.
Fogel's first public reprimand came in Virginia three years ago after he failed to file a court document, resulting in an Arlington man's spending four extra months in jail, missing his infant daughter's first Christmas and birthday and being escorted in handcuffs by police to his father's funeral.
At the time, Fogel said that he considered the reprimand a "personal disaster" and conceded that he had missed a deadline for filing the paper.
Then in May 1978, he was reprimanded by the D.C. Bar for neglecting a client's civil lawsuit in a manner that resulted in its dismissal. He conceded the neglect, according to court records, and said he was unable for a variety of reasons to "cope with the demands of his practice."
He told the bar at the time, though, also according to the public records, that he was taking several steps to improve his practice. The disciplinary arm said it recommended a reprimand instead of harsher action because of those promises and Fogel's "contrition."
In March of last year, a hearing committee of the D.C. Bar disciplinary arm found that Fogel had violated three bar disciplinary rules in his handling of another case in which he reportedly lied to a client about work that supposedly had been done.
"Dishonesty and deceit pervade the documents and testimony of Mr. Fogel," the hearing committee found. The committee concluded Fogel had lied to his client, the court and the disciplinary panel itself.
". . . Neglect and falsehoods appear to be a pattern of practice, and consequently, likely to recur," the committee found, in recommending that Fogel be suspended for six months to "[protect] . . . the public and the judicial system."
The committee also recommended that, before Fogel be readmitted to the bar, he complete a law school course in legal ethics, provide details as to how he plans to run his law office in the future, and provide a statement from a psychiatrist that he is capable of conducting a law practice.
The next step is the disciplinary proceeding -- a finding by the D.C. Bar board of professional responsibility to which the committee reported -- increased the recommended suspension to a year and one day and forwarded it to the D.C. Court of Appeals for final action last Aug. 13. No actions has been taken.
In the meantime, Fogel had been retained by Sharyn Tarason in August 1978 to represent her in a divorce. A cousin of hers, now deceased, was married to Fogel's brother, Carl, who is also a lawyer in the D.C. area but is not licensed to practice in Virginia.
Carl Fogel referred her to Martin Fogel, she said. Since at the time she thought her divorce was going to be contested by her husband, she said she was quoted a fee of "up to $1,000."
She said she paid an initial $500, but that she and her husband later worked out a separation agreement together. She also said Fogel promised her the divorce would be final in one year, but that it took 18 months -- and only then with consistent prodding from her.
Then, in January Fogel sent her a bill for an additional $500 and $152 in court costs. She wrote Fogel that she had "serious reservations about the validity" of the additional $500 fee and did not feel it was justified since she and her husband worked out the settlement themselves.
She also told Fogel she was referring the case to a fee arbitration panel of the Arlington County Bar, according to copies of correspondence she showed to a reporter.
In his response, Fogel said the fee of $1,000 was final when it was first quoted to her and "if you didn't like it then you could have walked. It has been a month and I don't know where you went with your fee arbitration committee but its (sic) apparently nowheresville."
He also told her in the letter that if she was "looking to chisel," he would accept $350. If she did not pay that amount, he said, he would sue her for the total.
"I was furious," Tarason said yesterday of receiving the letter. 'I'm not the type of person who is intimidated. I fight back."
Tarason, a 27-year-old librarian with the Service Employees International Union, said that out of the experience she "received nothing except grief, postponements, fights with my attorney and finally six months later than expected, the final papers."
Fogel, meanwhile, said, "I did the work and after the fact she decided the fee was too much. You (the reporter) can have fun with this thing . . . (but) I'm owed the money and will take whatever means necessary to get my fee."