CHARLESTON – A former Kanawha County Schools administrator is asking the Kanawha Magistrate Court to settle a long-standing dispute she has with her former attorney.
The administrator alleges the attorney not only failed to properly render assistance in grievance she filed against the Board of Education, but also falsified her billing statement in an attempt to prove she rendered the services for which she was paid.
On Feb. 28, Debra A. Santer of Cross Lanes filed suit against Charleston attorney Cynthia E. Evans. In her complaint and suit, Santer alleges she paid Evans $4,700 for legal services "that were not rendered."
Instead, Santer alleges Evans "submitted false bills via mail constituting mail fraud, and made false, defamatory statements." She has asked for a jury to award her return of her retainer plus interest and court costs.
In a reply dated the next day, Evans asked that Santer's suit be dismissed. In addition to failing to state "a coherent cause of action," Evans maintains that the statute of limitations has lapsed.
"The statute of limitations on any action for legal malpractice is two years," Evans said. " The Plaintiff also filed a Magistrate Court action alleging the same violations in 2002, but voluntarily withdrew said action."
"The Plaintiff also filed a Complaint with the West Virginia State Bar in 2002, which was dismissed by the Bar when they found in favor of the Defendant," Evans continued. "The lack of specificity and the length of time involved in bringing this Complaint causes the Defendant to be unfairly prejudiced."
According to court records, Santer filed a similar complaint against Evans in September 2002. Only then, she asked for the balance of $2,984.78 from the retainer following her termination of Evans' counsel on Sept. 12.
Also, Santer filed a complaint against Evans with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm, on Sep. 30, 2002. In her complaint, Santer alleged that "[a]fter having never produced periodic statements ... Ms. Evans retroactively and in a premeditated fashion, produced a statement that misrepresented the times spent on my case ..."
According to court records, Santer on Jan. 15, 2003, voluntarily withdrew her suit against Evans. In a letter addressed to Magistrate Ward Harshbarger, Santer said the reason for dismissing the suit was to await the outcome of ODC's investigation.
"I will postpone determining the need for further legal recourse, if any, until the proceedings within the jurisdiction of the WV Bar Association's Office of Disciplinary Counsel are finalized," Santer said in her letter.
On Oct. 29, 2003, ODC closed out Santer's complaint finding insufficient evidence that Evans violated any Rules of Professional Conduct. Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Lawrence J. Lewis determined the issue between Santer and Evans to be "a fee dispute" in which the "Lawyer Disciplinary Board will not involve itself in such matters unless the fee charged is in violation of some statute or regulation or is grossly excessive on its face."
In her reply dated March 12 to Evans' motion to dismiss in the pending suit, Santer says she did not refile the suit sooner because "other pressing matters were my focus." Since ODC decided to pass the buck on disciplining Evans, Santer says her only recourse is to bring the matter again before the court.
"Now is the time to revisit Ms. Evans's despicable and blatantly dishonest acts," Santer said.
The case has been assigned to Kanawha Magistrate Julie Yeager, who as scheduled a hearing on Evan's dismissal motion for Wednesday April 30 at 10:30 a.m.
Kanawha Magistrate Court, Case Nos. 08-C-547 and 02-C-3487