A $25 million legal settlement involving a birth that left a boy with permanent injuries has called into question the ethics of two prominent Bridgeport attorneys accused of pocketing millions in excessive fees associated with the medical malpractice case. A civil suit has been brought by the parents of the disabled son Cathy and Domenic D’Atillo and an industry investigator has leveled misconduct allegations against the attorneys Michael Koskoff and Kathleen Nastri.
The case is top of mind among Connecticut’s legal industry involving seasoned lawyers respected nationally for medical malpractice and personal injury work under fire for accepting excessive fees. Koskoff’s firm is a legal institution based in Bridgeport. He has written a screenplay about Thurgood Marshall’s work as a young attorney sent by the NAACP to defend a black chauffeur against his wealthy employer in a sensational sexual assault trial in Bridgeport.
The Connecticut Law Tribune is following this case that has also received coverage from mainstream media outlets. The case centers on whether the lawyers violated Connecticut’s fee statute. It also calls into question the grievance process that polices the legal industry. From the CT Law Tribune:
Michael Koskoff, reached on Feb. 19 at his Bridgeport law office, said the firm is not contending that the 2003 retainer agreement was modified by some other document signed by the D’Attilos. Instead, he said, the firm’s position is that a critical part of the original 2003 state fee statute was legally not “in effect” after it was amended in 2005.
In 2003, no waiver of the fee statute was expressly allowed. But by 2005, it was. That, Koskoff said, was sufficient for the firm to claim that the state’s fee statute had changed since the 2003 retainer agreement, allowing the 28 percent figure cited in the retainer to kick in.
A lawyer for the family, Howard Altschuler, has submitted an overview of the allegations to OIB with links to associated legal filings and articles.
There is a significant development in the case of 13-year-old Danny D’Attilo and his parents versus some of Connecticut’s highest profile attorneys. After a three-month investigation, Connecticut’s chief ethics prosecutor Karyl Carrasquilla formally filed three additional allegations of professional misconduct against nationally known attorneys Michael Koskoff and Kathleen Nastri, both of the Bridgeport firm of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder.
Among other things, Attorney Carrasquilla alleges that the two attorneys failed to honor a March 21, 2003 retainer agreement with the D’Attilos. As a result, the attorneys took $7 million in legal fees from a $25 million dollar medical malpractice settlement when the attorneys were only entitled to $2.66 million. There will now be a public hearing scheduled for the presentation of evidence.
This is a story with great human interest. On the one hand, Attorney Koskoff is one of the most highly regarded personal injury attorneys in the United States. He has had a book written about his legal exploits and recently sold a screenplay about Thurgood Marshall’s Bridgeport connection that will be made into a major film starring Chadwick Boseman. Attorney Nastri is a former president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association. She is currently the Vice President of the American Association of Justice, and has appeared on the cover of Super Lawyers, among other accomplishments.
>Danny D’Attilo, on the other hand, will not have an opportunity to study law, write screenplays, or, for that matter, even talk. He and his parents Cathy and Domenic made national headlines in May 2011 when a jury awarded them $58.6 million, the largest medical malpractice award in Connecticut history. The doctor’s negligence in 2003 left Danny severely disabled at birth and cut Danny’s life expectancy more than half. In January 2012, the D’Attilos settled the case for $25 million. Unfortunately, that is when the D’Attilos allege their lives took a turn for the worse as a result of what their attorneys did to them.
In December 2014 the D’Attilos filed a civil lawsuit alleging that their former attorneys defrauded them, two probate courts, and a guardian ad litem, in order to steal $4.34 million from the D’Attilos’ settlement funds in the guise of legal fees, among other allegations.
In February 2015, the D’Attilos filed ethics grievances against seven of their former attorneys. However, the grievance process has taken more than a year, and has raised significant concerns about the competency and fairness of Connecticut’s grievance process.
The D’Attilos recently filed suit against the Statewide Grievance Committee, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, and other Connecticut grievance officials, alleging that the officials failed to follow specific court rules and they abused their discretion by applying lower standards of conduct for well-known and well-connected attorneys. In what may be a first of its kind request, the D’Attilos’ attorney, Howard Altschuler of Bethany Connecticut, also asked the Hartford Superior Court to take over the D’Attilos’ grievance process and out of the hands of the statewide grievance officials. There will be oral arguments in Hartford Superior Court on March 14, 2016 on the state’s motion to dismiss on a claim the D’Attilos have no standing to bring such an action.
Attorney Altschuler, who has been handling legal malpractice and attorney ethics’ cases for nearly twenty years, stated: “While these additional allegations of professional misconduct are a positive step in the right direction, there are many other deficiencies in the grievance process that we are attempting to address in the litigation against the grievance officials. This case highlights details of how the attorney grievance system has failed to live up to its basic responsibilities, leaving the most vulnerable clients unprotected, while well-connected attorneys are given special treatment.”
More details about the case against the statewide grievance officials may be found here. The civil complaint may be found here.
Attorney Altschuler continued: “This grievance case affects every person who has used or will ever use a Connecticut attorney. Are you and your family protected if your Connecticut attorney is unethical? The disturbing answer is–maybe not. Attorneys are supposed to be subject to rules of professional conduct and must conduct themselves ethically at all times. Connecticut attorneys hold hundreds of millions of dollars or more of client funds in trust accounts controlled by those same attorneys. Attorneys are often appointed as trustees for estates or guardians during divorce or custody litigation. These attorneys often make life changing decisions, but have virtually no oversight on the fees they charge or actions they take. The state authorities who are supposed to be policing the legal profession and protecting the public from unethical attorneys have not only failed to do their job in this case, the state officials have themselves violated the rules.”
The D’Attilos have also met with state legislators asking that the Connecticut Judiciary Committee investigate and reform Connecticut’s grievance system.
Contact Attorney Howard Altschuler, 1.234.567.9897, firstname.lastname@example.org, 21 Perkins Rd., Bethany, CT 06524. For further information, click on any of the following:
· Connecticut Law Journal February 22 article about the additional allegations filed by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel here. Additional Law Tribune articleshere and here.
· Additional press releases: 1, 2, 3, and news articles here and here.
· Article in the Wilton Bulletin about the grievance case.
· Exhibits to the amended complaint against grievance officials, and chronological list of exhibits here.
· Connecticut Supreme court motion related to grievance issues.
Respected, Lennie? We don’t pay respect to lawyers–we just pay them.
Does an amendment to a law mean the old law is no longer in effect? Actually, the Connecticut Supreme Court specifically addressed this question in the case of LeConche v. Elligers, 215 Conn. 701 (1990) which you can access on Google Scholar.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous answer? No. Even the parts of a law that were amended still remain “in effect” for those who signed contracts prior to the amendment (unless the law specifically invalidated prior agreements).
If that were not the case, anytime there was an amendment to a law that affected contracts, everyone would have to throw out their old contracts and sign new ones. In 2005, the state legislature added language to the fee cap statute (§52-251c), but did not change the mathematical formula for contingency fee calculations.
More information about this particular issue may be found here on pages 19-35 of the document hyperlinked above where it says “More details about the case against the statewide grievance officials may be found HERE.”
That document will also provide additional information regarding some of the problems with Connecticut’s attorney grievance system that are being challenged in this case (see pages 15-18).
Any readers of OIB who agree the attorney grievance system in Connecticut is in need of investigation and reform, please contact your state representative and state senator and let them know, since we are seeking legislative intervention on this important issue.
Thanks for covering this important case and stay tuned for more interesting developments.
Howard, thanks for your input. Upon reading the motion, I noticed your name. Is it wise to let the other side know what your argument is or will be?
As for contacting our representative and state senator, tell me you were joking!
My comments have already appeared in court papers and I thought they were relevant to the blog post.
As far as state representatives, the reality is, unfortunate or not, unless public pressure is brought to bear for changes to the system, nothing will change. In fact, a few years ago the legislature and courts instituted at least some reforms of the probate court system after heavy criticisms.
There are other states that afford more protection to clients. For example, in New York, Judiciary Law 487 makes it a crime punishable by up to one year in prison (and triple civil damages) for an attorney to engage in deception during the course of litigation. Proving such a case is not easy, but at least there is a right to bring such an action. In the Simms case, the Connecticut Supreme Court essentially said unless the state legislature enacts such a law, attorneys in Connecticut are immune from any civil suits for fraud they commit during litigation.
Other states have rights to appeal dismissals of grievance decisions (for example, Michigan).
So, we are challenging the system through the current lawsuit against the statewide grievance defendants, and we are asking for an investigation of the grievance system by the state legislature. I hope once the general public learns people have virtually no rights in the grievance system, and communicates their objection to this to their state reps something will happen. We shall see.
*** THERE’S ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO A STORY WITH THE TRUTH “SOMETIMES” SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE, NO? ***