Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Judge Crowder denies summary judgment but dismisses portion of attorney’s legal fee suit

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Aug 16, 2016

Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder denied summary judgment but granted dismissal of counts I through VI in a fee dispute lawsuit brought by Roth Law’s former associate attorney Deborah Besserman.

Crowder entered the order on July 19.

Besserman, a former law clerk and paralegal who later was hired as an associate attorney of the firm, filed the lawsuit last October claiming the firm reached an oral agreement to split certain legal fees.

In her suit, she claims that once she passed the bar and began working as an attorney, she agreed to a change in compensation. However, in early 2014, Besserman and another attorney were called into a meeting where the defendant again announced a change in the fee sharing provision, but neither agreed.

Besserman claims her employer kept changing the fee sharing plan without agreement from the associate attorneys for the rest of her employment. She was terminated by Roth Law on July 1, 2014.

The plaintiff claims Roth’s refusal to pay her share of the attorney’s fees breaches the compensation agreement and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Defendant Ron Roth moved to dismiss counts I through VI, which allege Roth Law Offices is individually liable. He claims he operates his law practice as an LLC and cannot be individually liable.

Crowder notes that Besserman makes nearly identical allegations against Roth Law Offices.

“The individual may be named in counts so long as the counts are for individual acts and not those of the LLC. The court dismisses Counts I through VI and grants plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint amending those counts against defendant individually within 28 days,” the order states.

In Roth’s motion for summary judgment for counts VIII, X, XI and XII, he says that a fee-sharing agreement between a lawyer and non-lawyer is a violation of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.

Crowder denied his motion, stating that he misread the complaint.

“Plaintiff does state some of the cases were brought to the Roth firm prior to her completing law school and becoming licensed. But the complaint alleges that the compensation agreement was entered into after her licensure.

“Additionally, the fees sought are not the standard referral fee where one law firm refers a case to another and the client must sign an agreement with both for fees to be shared; here, plaintiff alleges she was an employee of Roth and the agreement was made while she was in the same firm.

“She seeks to enforce terms of an alleged oral contract for employment,” the order states.

Besserman is represented by Bill T. Walker of Granite City and James Parrot of St. Louis.

Roth Law is represented by Christopher Hunter of Hunter and Johnson in Godfrey.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 15-L-1377

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