Apple Grove resident James Watterson was one of three fomer clients Raymond G. Musgrave sued in 2005 for non-payment of legal services. The suits came three years after the state Bar Association warned Musgrave about taking such action unless he first clearly communicated payment arrangements with his clients. (Photo by Lawrence J. Smith)
POINT PLEASANT – Despite a warning by the State Bar not to do so, a Mason County attorney has sued at least one former client for non-payment of legal fees without communicating fee arrangements, and payment expectations.
On March 8, 2002, the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Bar's prosecutorial arm, dismissed a complaint filed against Vickie Smith, of Gallipolis, Ohio, against Raymond Musgrave. In her complaint, Smith asked the Bar to investigate possible ethics violations Musgrave may have committed when he sued her in 2001 for non-payment of legal services rendered.
In her complaint, Smith said after her divorce was finalized in January 2000, she made regular monthly payments to Musgrave for almost a year without complaint. Without any explanation, Smith says Musgrave refused to accept her December 2000 and January 2001 payments.
Though the Board's investigative panel found "insufficient evidence of a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct at this time," it did remind Musgrave about "keep[ing] a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly complying with reasonable requests for information."
In his closing letter, Allan N. Karlin, the panel's chairman, said "the Panel strongly warns Respondent [Musgrave] to communicate with his clients about his fee arrangements and his expectations of payment in order to avoid suing his clients for nonpayment of legal fees in future matters."
According to court records, Raymond G. Musgrave brought suit against three former clients in 2005 in Mason Magistrate Court. On Jan. 11, 2005, he sued James S. Watterson and Jason Zirkle for $3,861,08, and for $2,703.14, respectively.
About two weeks later on Jan. 26, 2005, he sued Okey Stanley for $1,724.22.
Though records are unclear as to why, but the case against Zirkle was dismissed on Feb. 1, 2005. Also on that date, Watterson replied to Musgrave's suit saying, "I do not feel that I owe $3,861.08 to Mr. Musgrave."
Though records show Stanley signed on Feb. 4, 2005, the certified letter Musgrave sent serving him notice of the suit, he filed no reply. Regardless, a hearing was set for March 21, 2005 in both his and Watterson's cases.
When both failed to appear that day, Musgrave was granted default judgment in each case.
According to court records, Musgrave represented Stanley in a 1994 divorce from his ex-wife in Putnam County. In Watterson's case, Musgrave represented him in a felony criminal case of failing to pay child support.
An advocate, and not a salesman
In speaking with The West Virginia Record, Watterson, 54, said he specifically retained Musgrave because of the reputation he had with his father, James Leonard Watterson. However, he says he quickly discovered that issues involving family law are not Musgrave's forte.
"In his day," Watterson said, "he was the best in the county, but he has not kept up with anything. An attorney is supposed to be there to represent you, and not be a car salesman," he added.
According to Watterson, his legal troubles started in 1991 when he and his wife, Judy, filed for divorce. They agreed to a 50/50 parenting plan with their daughter, Ashley, in which Watterson was to pay Judy $200 a month in child support.
However, once Ashley began living with Watterson full-time, he stopped paying Judy child support.
"I figured if she's living with me, I don't have to pay her mother anything," Watterson said.
According to Watterson, he was successful in getting full custody of Ashley in 1995, and awarded child support. Any support he received was deducted off his arrearage to Judy.
That worked well until Ashley got into her teen years, Watterson said, and decided she wanted to live with Judy "because she didn't like dad's rules." After custody reverted to Judy, so to did child support.
Only now, Watterson said, the payments increased from $200 to $500 a month.
About the time the arrearage reached $8,000 he was charged in 2003. Partly because of Musgrave's misunderstanding of family law, Watterson said he decided to plead guilty to the charge against him.
In addition to paying off the arrearage, Watterson said he was sentenced to three years probation, and 100 hours of community service.
An unnecessary burden
Though he has since paid-off the back child support, Watterson said given the additional costs such as Musgrave's legal fees, "I would have been better off had I borrowed the money and paid her."
According to Watterson, he paid Musgrave a retainer of $1,500 to handle the case. Upon reaching the agreement, Watterson said Musgrave told him he probably won't have to pay any more than the retainer, and may even be entitled to a partial refund.
Needless to say, Watterson was shocked when he received a bill totaling nearly $4,000 shortly after his guilty plea. He avers at no time during the course of his case did Musgrave inform him of additional expenses.
Regardless, Watterson says after receiving the bill, he went to Musgrave's office to work out an arrangement on payment. Though he did not speak directly with Musgrave, Watterson told his secretary that because of the obligation he now owed his ex-wife, and his intermittent work in the construction field, paying off the bill may take awhile.
According to Watterson, the secretary said she understood his dilemma, and any payment he could make as soon as possible would be appreciated. When he received notice of the suit, Watterson said he was dumbfounded.
Though he still believes Musgrave misled him, Watterson says he has every intention of satisfying the judgment. However, should anyone ask him for a referral on an attorney, Watterson says Musgrave won't be one of them.
"I wouldn't recommend him to anybody for anything," Watterson said.
When reached for a comment, Musgrave said "That's a little stale. Refresh my memory." After explaining the cases, he still could not recall what they were about.
"I don't have any remembrance of those cases," Musgrave said. "You'll have to check with my attorneys and accountants."
Mason Magistrate Court, Case Nos. 05-C-7 (Watterson), 05-C-8 (Zirkle) and 05-C-17 (Stanley)