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

November 24, 2003

LAW OFFICES OF JEFFERY M. LEVING, LTD., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
STEVEN R. COTTING, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



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

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice O'malley

PUBLISHED

Modified Upon Denial of Rehearing

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 and venue and requesting 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.

BACKGROUND

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 8, 2001, after reading an advertisement on the Internet sponsored by 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 an attorney from the firm who was going to represent him in the Georgia case. Cotting claims that the attorney told him 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. The attorney allegedly 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.

Cotting also maintains that the attorney told him that a $35,000 retainer was required and that as soon as he could raise the money the firm could begin on the case. According to Cotting, the attorney called regularly between October 9 and October 28 to see if Cotting had raised the money and on one occasion allegedly 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, the attorney did not respond to Cotting for weeks. Cotting claims to have repeatedly called the attorney 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 the attorney and the firm and received no response.

Cotting claims that when the attorney finally came to Georgia and communicated with him, he ignored all of the information he had given the attorney for filing his motion for modification. Cotting alleges that the attorney refiled a copy of a previously submitted motion in the original Georgia proceeding and changed the title. The trial court in Georgia, according to Cotting, 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 shows that the attorney 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 overbilled him, created false invoices, doctored the terms of the engagement contract and continued to bill Cotting for services even after he discharged the attorney 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 the attorney from the Leving firm 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, the firm's managing partner contacted Cotting on May 2, 2002, to investigate the matter. Several communications by fax and telephone followed. Cotting gave the managing partner examples of the attorney's misconduct and poor performance. The managing partner requested more information and told Cotting that he would investigate the matter further.

However, on May 11 and 16, 2002, Cotting faxed letters to the managing partner with no response. On May 17, 2002, Cotting attempted to call the managing partner and the latter refused his call. Later that day, Cotting claims that he received a call from the firm's malpractice carrier inquiring about his complaint. The representative supposedly stated that she wold attempt to have the firm settle the case with Cotting and respond 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 the attorney on April 29, 2002. Moreover, the billing statement was dated May 7, 2002, as was the sworn affidavit of ...


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