Wow. This “grievance against lawyers” category has grown into a book-length misadventure, hasn’t it?
As I’ve said previously, I never imagined I’d be availing myself of the grievance process against any lawyer, but especially not against a personal injury lawyer who has represented me since the beginning of 2008, when I broke a bone in my foot on a badly maintained sidewalk on my own street.
This was such a simple case. I still think it’s simple. I am mystified and now justifiably angry about the way Dinkes & Schwitzer, the law firm I retained, has handled the case and, more important, has mishandled me, their client. They deserve to have a grievance filed against them.
In preparation, I just pulled out my (meager) file on the case. But much more important, I printed out my CaseMap time line (CaseMap calls it “Fact Chronology”), which I’ve kept up to date. I’ll use this time line to pull significant facts for the grievance. And if I need to remind you of the value of keeping a time line — and keeping it up to date, a litigation Dear Diary — well, you haven’t been paying attention.
The only difficulty I foresee is selecting key facts. So let me try this summary on you. It’s rather long but here are the facts:
- January 25, 2008. I broke a bone (a metatarsal) in my right foot.
- February 8, 2008. I went to the law firm of Dinkes & Schwitzer, was interviewed by William Hamel, and signed a retainer agreement. I was not given a copy of the agreement.
- May 14, 2008. I was deposed by the City of New York. (Dinkes had filed a Notice of Claim against the City, in case it, not the owner of the building, was responsible for the sidewalk.) I was represented by an out-of-firm lawyer, hired by Dinkes for this purpose. I don’t know when the Notice of Claim was filed or what it stated; I was never sent a copy. Shortly after the deposition, I was mailed the transcript to review, make corrections, sign in front of a notary and return to Dinkes. I did so. At my own expense, I made a copy of the deposition transcript for my file. Good thing:Dinkes never sent me a copy.
- August 19, 2008. I was summoned to Dinkes to read and sign the Verified Complaint. I was not given a copy.
- August 21, 2009. I was summoned to Dinkes to sign the Verified Bill of Particulars (a type of discovery document). I was not given a copy.
- January 6, 2010. A Dinkes letter informed me my deposition by the insurance company for the defendant had been scheduled for February 4.
- February 3, 2010. I went to Dinkes and was prepped for my deposition by an out-of-firm lawyer.
- February 4, 2010. I was deposed.
- March 19, 2010. A Dinkes paralegal mailed my deposition transcript, requesting my review, corrections and notarized signature. I did all this; I did not make a copy of this transcript for my files. I never received a copy from Dinkes.
- March 31, 2010. I received a letter from Dinkes, informing me that an appointment had been made for me to be seen by the defendant’s podiatrist. The letter warned me about all the things I shouldn’t allow the podiatrist to do, i.e., take an x-ray of my foot.
- April 13, 2010. I saw the podiatrist; I obeyed my lawyer’s bans.
- June 3, 2010. After noticing on the Supreme Court data base that several court conferences in my case had been held and/or adjourned, I called the Dinkes associate assigned to my case to find out what was going on. He explained: once discovery had been completed, a Note of Issue (NOI) would be filed, announcing that we’re ready to go to trial. Then the defendant’s insurance company should get serious about discussing a settlement.
- August 17, 2010. Got a letter from Dinkes, setting another appointment with the defendant’s podiatrist. This time, I was told, he would be permitted to take x-rays of my foot.
- August 26, 2010. I saw the defendant’s podiatrist, again. He took x-rays.
- November 4, 2010. Called Dinkes to find out what was going on. The associate I’d last spoken to was “no longer with the firm.” I asked to speak to the woman whom, I was told, was now handling my case. She had just been given the file and needed to get herself informed; she’d call me in a week. I never received a call.
- December 22, 2010. Called Dinkes and asked to speak to the associate assigned to my case. She was “no longer with the firm.” I left a message for Bill Hamel to call me with the current status of case. Hamel did not call me back.
- January 4, 2011. Called Dinkes; asked to speak to the lawyer handling my case. I was told the lawyer was in a meeting. Could I leave a message? Who was the lawyer, I asked? Bill Hamel. This time Hamel did return my call but I was out when he called.
- January 12, 2011. Called Dinkes; left message for Hamel: I wanted an appointment to go over the case. Left four available dates. I received no response.
- January 20, 2011. A Dinkes paralegal called. Marc Mauser was now the attorney on my case. He needed me to come to the office and sign a new complaint. I asked why was there a new complaint? She didn’t know. I made an appointment for the following day.
- January 21, 2011. At Dinkes’ office I was presented with a new complaint. I demanded an explanation: why, after three years, was there a new complaint? Nobody was available to tell me. I told them I would not sign without an explanation and insisted on seeing Mauser. After I was kept waiting for a while, I met Mauser who explained that during the defendant’s deposition, the building’s manager had taken the rap for the sidewalk. So why weren’t we filing an amended complaint, I wanted to know? Because, Mauser said, discovery was complete and time to amend the complaint had run out. I wasn’t satisfied with the explanation; also, I expressed surprise that there had been a deposition about which I hadn’t been informed and to which I hadn’t been invited to attend — my right as plaintiff. I signed the new complaint. I was not given a copy of the defendant’s deposition transcript.
- January 21, 2011. The new complaint was filed in Supreme Court. I know this only because I found it on the court data base. I was not sent a copy.
- February 18, 2011. I called Dinkes, spoke to a paralegal and asked for a copy of the retainer agreement. He e-mailed it. It was a sloppy Blumberg form and was not countersigned by any lawyer at Dinkes.
- June 2, 2011. I e-mailed Mauser, asking for status of case. He did not respond.
- June 6, 2011. I e-mailed Mauser again, reminding him I wanted an answer to my 6/2 e-mail. He did not respond.
- June 10, 2011. I called Dinkes and asked to speak to whichever associate was handling my case. I was told he was in court. I left a message for him to call me. He did not call me.
- July 13, 2011. I e-mailed Mauser, reminding him of my two unanswered e-mails and one unanswered call to the associate. Since I had never received responses, I would go to court the next day and find the associate to get a status report. Mauser did not respond.
- July 14, 2011. I went to court. Found associate; we chatted. He told me that all discovery was in hand. By next court date (9/22) settlement discussions should begin.
- September 16, 2011. I e-mailed Mauser: court data base had no record of NOI. Had negotiations begun? I asked him to fill me in on status of the case. I wrote that if I didn’t hear from him, I’d be at the 9/22 court conference. I did not hear from him.
- September 22, 2011. I did not go to court: according to the court data base, the conference had been adjourned.
- October 2, 2011. The New York Times Best Lawyers supplement had an ad for Dinkes & Schwitzer, stating “Dedication to Clients: client contact is the firm’s most paramount principle. An attorney, not a paralegal or a secretary, regularly advises clients of the progress of their case.”
- October 4, 2011. I wrote a sarcastic letter to Bill Schwitzer in response to the above ad.
- October 5, 2011. Mauser called me; my letter had gotten him yelled at by Schwitzer. But maybe before the holidays he could call me with “good news.”
- October 25, 2011. A Dinkes paralegal called. Mauser wanted to see me. I made an appointment for 11/3/2011.
- November 3, 2011. I met with Mauser. He told me settlement offer was $30,000. I was disappointed but eventually signed the settlement agreement. I was not given a copy. Mauser told me he thought everything would be completed by February 2012.
- December 27, 2011. Medicare sent me a conditional payment list. It was four pages and radically incorrect, including many expenses not related to the foot injury.
- January 5, 2012. I e-mailed Mauser and told him about the Medicare letter. I asked if he’d done anything about it, and asked for advice about what I should do. “Could you confirm you’ve read this e-mail?” He did not respond.
- January 19, 2012. I e-mailed Mauser. I had finished a four-page letter to Medicare with corrections. “I have not heard from you about this. I would have thought your firm should have done this work in conjunction with me…Please respond to this e-mail.” He did not respond.
- January 20, 2012. I mailed the package I’d prepared to Medicare and copied Mauser. I did not hear from him.
- January 26, 2012. I sent a certified letter to Schwitzer reporting everything that had happened, copying my e-mails. I said I couldn’t get any response from Mauser or anyone else at his law firm. I demanded, and listed, all the documents I wanted them to send me. I also wanted a copy of a draft OCA closing statement.
- A few days later. I received phone messages from a Dinkes paralegal. I did not respond.
- February 1, 2012. Bill Hamel called. He asked if Medicare hadn’t been explained to me? I said of course it had, I’d given them all the relevant documents years previously, and now, because I couldn’t get a response from his law firm, I had done all the work. He said “I didn’t call to pick a fight with you.” I reminded him I wanted copy of my entire file. He said, “We’re not trying to hide anything from you.”
- February 17, 2012. Mauser wanted me to come in and pick up my file. I wasn’t available when he suggested. I told him I’d call when I could come in.
- February 29, 2012. I e-mailed Mauser and told him that before I picked up my file I wanted to see the draft closing statement, i.e., the settlement cost breakdown. No response.
- March 15, 2012. I sent a letter to Mauser with the corrected Medicare conditional payment summary (the work I had done entirely on my own). I reminded him I still hadn’t received the draft closing statement. “I find the continued lack of response from your firm inexplicable,” I wrote.
- March 20, 2012. A Dinkes paralegal called; she would e-mail the closing statement.
- March 28, 2012. I wrote to Mauser, cc Schwitzer, questioning items on the OCA Closing Statement draft. I wanted explanations and, in certain cases, wanted to see the invoices.
- March 28, 2012. I e-mailed Mauser, informing him I was sending a letter with my reaction to closing statement. No response.
- April 6, 2012. I sent a letter to Mauser cc Schwitzer, enclosing my 3/28 letter and demanded a response by Friday, April 13.
- April 13, 2012. I did not receive any response.
So here we are. Tomorrow I’ll be filling out the form from the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department, Departmental Disciplinary Committee, and sending it to 61 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10006.