Firm Ripped Over 'Ploy' to Keep Malpractice Case in Home County
Bowes said King and the firm filed a declaratory judgment action, claiming Jacqueline Rupert was trying to nullify the revised November 2011 contingency fee arrangement. A Butler County judge later ruled that Rupert's legal malpractice case should be moved from Allegheny County to Butler County and coordinated with the declaratory judgment action.
On appeal to the Superior Court, Rupert argued the firm's action "was a sham," aimed at stopping her from filing suit in Allegheny County.
Bowes said that even though King had an attorney-client relationship with Rupert, knew that Michael Rupert's father, Timothy Rupert, "vehemently disliked Jacqueline" and didn't want her involved in the case, he included Timothy Rupert in discussions about the case.
"As a result of significant private communications with and directions from Timothy, Mr. King's advice to Jacqueline was improperly influenced to Jacqueline's detriment," Bowes said.
According to Bowes, Jacqueline Rupert alleged that King failed to tell her that her loss of consortium claim was a separate claim that could be tried by a jury. Rupert claimed that King told her that a high average for loss of consortium claims was $100,000 and that Michael and Timothy Rupert would not share any settlement or verdict with her.
She also alleged that King told her he would reduce his contingency fee and give her the reduction, Bowes said, and that the amount she would get would be more than if she took her case to trial.
"The reduction in the fee was designed to secure Jacqueline's assent to settle to the benefit of [the firm], which received a multimillion-dollar fee," Bowes said.
Despite the firm's claims and the trial court's finding, Bowes said Jacqueline Rupert's letter and lawsuit were centered on allegations of legal malpractice, conflict of interest and breach of fiduciary duty, and not on trying to nullify the fee agreement.
"At no point in the complaint did Jacqueline seek to negate or avoid the legal impact of any documents she signed," Bowes said. "Rather, her allegations solely concerned Mr. King's advice to and representation of her in connection with her execution of documents."
To let the case be tried in Butler County would prejudice Rupert, she said, because Allegheny County is her chosen forum.