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Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving, Ltd. v. Cotting

September 29, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Lisa R. Curcio, Judge Presiding.



Plaintiff, the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving, Ltd., (the firm) filed suit in the circuit court of Cook County alleging that defendant, Steven R. Cotting, failed to pay $2,805.98 in fees for legal services on his behalf. Cotting filed pro se motions challenging jurisdiction, venue and requested that the trial court dismiss the firm's action. The trial court denied Cotting's motions finding inter alia, that the circuit court of Cook County had jurisdiction and that venue was proper. Cotting filed a pro se petition for leave to appeal the order of circuit court of Cook County denying his motion to transfer venue based on forum non conveniens pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306 (166 Ill. 2d R. 306(a)(4)).

We deny Cotting's petition for want of jurisdiction.


Plaintiff, the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving LTD., filed suit in the circuit court of Cook County seeking $2,805.98 in fees allegedly incurred by Steven Cotting. The firm and Cotting had entered into a contractual agreement whereby the firm agreed to provide legal services to Cotting relating to a judgment in Georgia granting certain custodial rights of Cotting's daughter to his former spouse. The agreement stated that the firm would "represent client in pending petitions in case No. 01-A-3232-6 (Georgia) and prepare and prosecute petition for modification of custody and such other work as law office deems necessary."

Cotting claims that he contacted the firm on October 8th 2001, after reading an advertisement on the internet sponsored Jeffery M. Leving Ltd. claiming a specialty in "fathers' rights." The internet ad also indicated that the firm represents fathers across the country and internationally. Cotting spoke to Martin Delaney, an attorney from the firm who was going to represent him in the Georgia case. Delaney told Cotting that the trial court judge was biased and that he should retain the firm to represent him in petitioning the Georgia court for a new trial. Delaney represented to Cotting that he was not intimidated by judges and further, local counsel would not be suitable for this type of petition because they would be concerned about their future practice before the judges in Georgia.

Delaney told Cotting that a $35,000 retainer was required and that as soon as Cotting could raise the money the firm could begin on the case. Delaney called regularly between October 9th and October 28th to see if Cotting had raised the money and on one occasion told Cotting to "raise the money quickly or risk losing his daughter forever." Cotting raised the money and sent the retainer to the firm. After receiving the money, Delaney did not respond to Cotting for weeks. Cotting repeatedly called Delaney for updates on the case and general progress, but rarely received answers. Cotting testified at a hearing in the circuit court that he had phone records showing that he placed over 100 calls to Delaney and the firm and received no response.

Cotting claims that when Delaney finally came to Georgia and communicated with him, he ignored all of the information he had given Delaney for filing his motion for modification. Cotting alleges that Delaney re-filed a copy of a previously submitted motion in the original Georgia proceeding and changed the title. The trial court in Georgia recognized the pleading as identical to a pleading filed in the prior proceeding and fined Cotting $14,000 for "abusive litigation." Cotting further alleges that a transcript of the above proceeding show that Delaney was unprepared, could not answer simple questions asked by the judge concerning basic statutory matters and was unable to respond to issues put to him by opposing counsel. The trial court further ordered Cotting to pay opposing counsel's fees resulting from the petition for modification of the custody arrangement.

Cotting also argues that, in addition to being unfamiliar with the facts, issues and law related to his case, the firm over-billed him, created false invoices, doctored the terms of the engagement contract and continued to bill Cotting for services even after he discharged Delaney in writing. Cotting compares the services rendered by the firm to those rendered by local counsel. The firm, which allegedly performed very little work, billed over $37,000 whereas local counsel who was responsible for the majority of the pleadings in the petition for rehearing billed a total of $2,000.

On April 29, 2002, Cotting faxed a complaint to Jeffery Leving, (the individual) indicating his belief that Delaney engaged in fraud. Cotting requested that the firm return his entire retainer plus $25,000 in damages, a written apology and assurances that internal procedures would be instituted to guarantee that this would not happen to others. After the faxed letter, Mr. St. Pierre, the firm's managing partner, contacted Cotting on May 2, 2002, to investigate the matter. Several communications by fax and telephone followed. Cotting gave Mr. St. Pierre examples of Delaney's misconduct and poor performance. Mr. St. Pierre requested more information and told Cotting that he would investigate the matter further.

However, on May 11, and 16, 2002, Cotting faxed letters to Mr. St. Pierre with no response. On May 17, 2002, Cotting attempted to call Mr. St. Pierre and the latter refused his call. Later that day, Cotting received a call from the firm's malpractice carrier inquiring about his complaint. The representative stated that she wold attempt to have the firm settle the case with Cotting and respond back to him. Instead, on June 24, 2002, Cotting was served with a complaint filed in the circuit court of Cook County alleging that Cotting owed $2,805.98 to the firm for unpaid legal fees.

Cotting claims that the billing statement for the additional fees was never sent to him prior to filing the complaint. He further alleged that the work billed in that invoice was, in part, performed after Cotting requested that no more work be done without authorization on March 25, 2002, and after he formally discharged Delaney on April 29, 2002. Moreover, the billing statement was dated May 7, 2002, as was the sworn affidavit of Mr. St. Pierre, only five days after Cotting complained to Mr. St. Pierre and threatened to sue the firm in Georgia.

An ex parte default judgment was entered in favor of the firm on August 7, 2002. On August 20, 2002, Cotting, representing himself, filed motions to vacate the default judgment, transfer jurisdiction and venue and dismiss the action pending in the circuit court. Cotting claims that he traveled from Georgia to Chicago to appear in circuit court on four occasions to deal with this litigation. On February 10, 2003, Cotting's motion to transfer jurisdiction and venue and to dismiss were denied by the trial court. The court found that both jurisdiction and venue were proper and that no affirmative matters defeated the firm's properly pleaded cause of action. On March 13, 2003, Cotting filed an answer and counterclaim against the firm. On April 18, 2003, Cotting filed a motion to reconsider the order denying motion to transfer jurisdiction and venue. On May 12, 2003, the trial court denied ...

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