Belleville lawyer sues co-counsel over alleged failure to split fees

By Kelly Holleran | Dec 29, 2009

A Belleville lawyer is suing over another lawyer's alleged failure to properly split attorney fees.

Ronald R. Duebbert filed a lawsuit Dec. 14 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Charles H. Stegmeyer and Stegmeyer and Stegmeyer of Belleville.

Duebbert claims he became involved in a lawsuit filed against Tenet Health Systems Hospitals and Dr. Ronald Gaskin after Stegmeyer approached him in August 2004 about assisting him in salvaging the case.

Before Duebbert agreed to provide help, Stegmeyer was allegedly about to lose the case because he was unable to locate a bariatric expert to testify during trial and had missed multiple deadlines to disclose his expert witness, according to the complaint.

Duebbert agreed to step in and help and to pay one-half the expenses associated with the case. In return, Stegmeyer was to split one-half of the proceeds from attorneys' fees with Duebbert, the suit states.

Duebbert spent 15 days drafting a 42-page proposal, which he filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court on Feb. 18, 2005, the complaint says.

Both Duebbert and Stegmeyer agreed to hire Stephen J. Stephenson as local counsel in the case, but Duebbert remained the lead counsel and prepared most of the pleadings, he claims.

In August 2006, the Ridgeways, who were the plaintiffs in the case against the hospital, wrote a letter to Stegmeyer in which they fired him as their as their attorney. However, Stegmeyer continued to act as the Ridgeways' attorney and wrote a letter to the defendants' attorneys stating he was the lead counsel in the case and requesting they mail any correspondence to him, according to the complaint.

Eventually, Stegmeyer convinced the Ridgeways to hire him back by threatening to sue them if they did not retain him as their counsel, the suit states.

On Nov. 28, 2007, the Ridgeways agreed to settle their case without going to trial. During the mediation, Duebbert and Stegmeyer accepted $70,000 in attorneys' fees and court costs, the complaint says.

However, Stegmeyer received all the money and detained it from Duebbert. In addition, Stegmeyer contended Stephenson should be paid fees out of Duebbert's share as Stegmeyer claims Duebbert hired him.

Duebbert contends he should receive at least $7,192 for money he spent on the case plus the 50 percent share of attorneys' fees.

"That throughout the pendency of Ridgeway 2, defendant Stegmeyer steadfastly refused to pay his share of case costs in Ridgeway 2, which were paid by plaintiff Duebbert in order to make certain that the Ridgeway 2 case would bear fruit at the end for plaintiffs Doris and Marion Ridgeway," the suit states.

In addition to the money Duebbert says Stegmeyer owes him, he seeks a judgment of more than $50,000, plus other relief the court deems just.

Duebbert of The Duebbert Law Office in Belleville will be appearing pro se.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 09-L-675.

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