Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable Albert J. Green, Judge Presiding.
Released for Publication June 7, 1994.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Egan
PRESIDING JUSTICE EGAN delivered the opinion of the court:
This case involves interpretation of Supreme Court Rule 764 (134 Ill. 2d R.764), which governs legal fees payable to a disbarred attorney. The trial Judge ruled that the plaintiff, Thomas Delbecarro, a disbarred lawyer, had not complied with the rule and dismissed his complaint pursuant to the motion of the defendants, Thomas R. Cirignani and Thomas R. Cirignani & Associates, which they had filed pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 110, par. 2-619. ) The plaintiff maintains that the trial Judge misconstrued Rule 764.
The plaintiff filed a verified complaint for accounting and injunctive relief which alleged the following. The plaintiff was voluntarily disbarred on June 17, 1986. From 1980 until May 1982, the plaintiff and Arthur Cirignani were partners in the law firm of DelBeccaro & Cirignani. Thomas R. Cirignani (Thomas) joined the firm in May 1982 and the law firm name became Delbeccaro, Cirignani, Komessar, Wintroub & Cirignani (DCKW&C). Pursuant to an oral partnership agreement, the partners were to share all fees equally.
On or about February 1, 1984, the plaintiff and Arthur Cirignani were no longer named partners in the firm, and the firm name then became Komessar, Wintroub and Cirignani (KW&C). KW&C continued to represent clients who previously had been represented by DCKW&C or by the plaintiff individually. Although the plaintiff was no longer a named partner, he continued to provide legal services for KW&C and to pay for case costs and expenses and office costs. The plaintiff also continued to share equally in the firm's profits with the other KW&C partners.
Subsequently, KW&C was dissolved and Thomas Cirignani then formed his own firm, named Thomas R. Cirignani & Associates. Thomas continued to represent those clients who previously had been represented by DCKW&C or the plaintiff individually.
At or about the time the plaintiff filed his motion for voluntary disbarment, the plaintiff and Thomas entered into an oral agreement. Thomas agreed that when attorney fees were received by Thomas individually or by his firm in connection with clients who had been represented by DCKW&C or by the plaintiff individually, Thomas would pay a portion of those fees to the plaintiff. The agreed amount was to fairly compensate the plaintiff for legal services the plaintiff had performed before his disbarment. They agreed that fair compensation would amount in some cases to 50% of any fee obtained plus reimbursement for all expenses and 20% for other cases.
The plaintiff believed that the defendants had received fees for some of the cases that were part of the agreement. The plaintiff listed in the complaint 2 of the 50% cases and 23 of the 20% cases that had been closed in which the defendants had received fees. Although the plaintiff requested payment, the defendants refused to pay. The plaintiff alleged that he was unable to determine the status of individual cases and fees with specificity and, therefore, lacked an adequate remedy at law.
The plaintiff requested the Judge to order the defendants "to provide an accounting of all cases pertaining to clients who were clients of DCKW&C or of plaintiff as of February 1, 1984, and who were clients of Thomas R. Cirignani & Associates subsequent to June 27, 1986, setting forth the status of each case and, if the case had been terminated, whether any attorney's fee was paid and the amount of said fee"; to make a determination of the amount of each attorney fee which was due to the plaintiff "to compensate him for legal services performed and responsibilities assumed prior to his disbarment"; and to order the defendants "to deliver to plaintiff all money due plaintiff as determined by the Court, as well as interest on these funds from the date of receipt of the funds by defendant to the present."
The defendants' motion to dismiss raised two grounds: (1) the plaintiff failed to comply with Supreme Court Rule 764; and (2) the oral compensation agreement was unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds. The Judge dismissed the complaint on the first ground.
Before November 1, 1989, Supreme Court Rule 764 did not address whether or how a disbarred attorney was to be paid for services rendered before disbarment. Rule 764 only provided a procedure for notifying clients of a disbarred attorney's inactive status. On October 20, 1989, Rule 764 was amended and became effective on November 1, 1989. The pertinent provisions of the amended Rule 764 are as follows:
"[h] Compensation arising from Former Law Practice. Provided that the disciplined attorney complies with the provisions of this rule, the disciplined attorney may receive compensation on a quantum meruit basis for legal services rendered prior to the effective date of the order of discipline. The disciplined attorney may not receive any compensation related ...