Charleston law firm sues former associate for keeping legal fees in SS cases
Lawrence Smith Nov. 11, 2009, 5:00am
CHARLESTON - A Charleston law firm alleges before going solo, one of its former associates failed to remit legal fees belonging to them.
Hendrickson and Long PLLC filed suit on Oct. 30 against Benjamin F. White. In its complaint filed in Kanawha Circuit Court, H&L alleges White, 44, before starting his firm, Benjamin F. White, attorney-at-law, PLLC, improperly received legal fees for Social Security claims he litigated on behalf of H&Ls clients.
White's law firm is named as a co-defendant in the suit.
According to the complaint, White joined H&L on April 28, 2008 as an associate focusing on Social Security law. As an at-will employee, White's compensation package included a base salary, eligibility for H&Ls bonus program, enrollment in its profit-sharing and health care plans and a line of credit.
However, fees he earned while representing Social Security claimants "were earned on behalf of H&L and owed to H&L."
Though it does not specify when, the suit alleges White began receiving payment from the U.S. Treasury in conjunction with representing clients before the Social Security Administration. H&L further alleges White not only "intentionally and systematically failed to relinquish all the fees received," but also "kept them for personal use or for use of White PLLC."
Records are unclear as to why, and when White left H&L to start his own firm. According the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office, White PLLC was incorporated on June 12.
White, H&L alleges, "acknowledges keeping money which was lawfully due and owing" to them. Also, White has refused to give an accounting of all funds he received from the Treasury relating to litigating Social Security claims for H&L clients.
In its suit, H&L makes claims against White and White PLLC for breach of duty arising from at-will employment, conversion, fraud and/or misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty. In addition to unspecified damages, attorney fees and interest, H&L seeks a court order freezing all of White's bank accounts and assets, including those for White PLLC, and an accounting of all his personal and business assets.
H&L is represented by Charleston attorney J. Miles Morgan. The case is assigned to Judge Irene C. Berger.
Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 09-C-2014