Firm Ripped Over 'Ploy' to Keep Malpractice Case in Home County
The court ordered that Rupert be allowed to proceed with her legal malpractice case in Allegheny County.
According to the opinion, the case stemmed from a May 2010 automobile accident that left Rupert's former husband, Michael Rupert, "horrifically injured." While he was in a coma and incapacitated, Jacqueline Rupert hired Dillon McCandless to represent her and her husband, the opinion said.
The Ruperts and their lawyer from Dillon McCandless, Thomas W. King III, executed a revised fee agreement in November 2010, the opinion said. The agreement called for the firm to reduce its fee by 30 percent, have Jacqueline Rupert's claim settle for 3.33 percent of the case, provide more than 66 percent of any recovery to Michael Rupert, and set out that the money laid out in the agreement would be "the sole and independent property" of each of the Ruperts, Bowes said.
King later drafted an irrevocable trust for Michael Rupert to deposit part of the proceeds of any personal injury claim, Bowes said, and in the event of a divorce, Jacqueline Rupert would get none of it.
The case settled for $19 million. Jacqueline Rupert received $632,700 for her loss of consortium claim, she said.
Two days after Jacqueline Rupert filed for divorce in November 2011, her new lawyer, Maurice Nernberg, sent King a letter accusing him of malpractice and conflict of interest, Bowes said. The letter, quoted in its entirety in the opinion, alleged that King knew that Michael Rupert and his father, Timothy Rupert, didn't want Jacqueline Rupert to receive any portion of any settlement.
"At the time your firm learned that Michael and Jacqueline were on opposite sides of the table, it had a duty to inform her that she would have to obtain her own counsel," the letter said. "Your firm had an irreconcilable conflict of interest."
The letter also claimed Jacqueline Rupert's loss of consortium claim was worth much more than "the small share of the settlement she received."
In addition, according to the opinion, the letter argued drafting the irrevocable trust made things worse and would only provide Jacqueline Rupert with benefits "if she was essentially an indentured servant to Michael." The letter alleged that King not only knew that Michael and Timothy Rupert didn't want Jacqueline Rupert to get any part of any recovery, but that they intended to use the trust to prevent her from getting any of the proceeds.
At the end of the letter, Nernberg wrote that Jacqueline Rupert intended to sue the firm unless there was a settlement or agreement.