Inmate wants $1M from N.Y. lawyer

By Kelly Holleran | May 18, 2009

CLARKSBURG -- A West Virginia inmate is seeking $1 million from a New York lawyer who he says won't inform him of what happened to $12,000 police took from his car during a routine traffic stop.

Melvin Miller filed a federal lawsuit April 14 against John Della Ratta Law Office, blaming Ratta for not telling him what happened to his cash.

Miller claims he was arrested in 2006 after police stopped his vehicle and found $12,000 inside it.

After his arrest, Miller hired Ratta to represent him. The case against Miller eventually was dismissed because of illegal procedures the officers followed during Miller's arrest, the complaint says.

Miller asked Ratta what would happen to the $12,000 found in his car, and Ratta offered to represent Miller in exchange for his usual counsel fee of 20 percent, according to the complaint.

Miller says he agreed to the terms in hopes that he would get his money back.

About one month after Miller hired Ratta, the lawyer told Miller that he had turned down an offer from the district attorney to return some of Miller's money to him, the suit states.

"I ask him why had he not contact me and inform me that they, (Unknown) had offer to return my money, he did not have an answer for me, and I have not receive one to this day from him," the suit states.

A few months later, Miller was again arrested and he again hired Ratta to represent him, according to the complaint.

Repeatedly, Miller claims he asked Ratta what happened to his money, but Ratta continued to ignore his questions.

Because he could get no answer from Ratta, Miller asked his wife, mother and sister to begin questioning the lawyer, according to the complaint. However, Ratta would either ignore their phone calls or would have a brief and unproductive conversation.

"I have even tried to write to Mr. Della Ratta asking him to please release any and all information that he has documented regarding the outcome of the matter concerning my money, even in that instance he has refuse to assist me in trying to get my money return to me, here it is now the year 2009, 3 years later, and I still have not heard anything else from him, nor of my money that was forfeit from me," Miller wrote in his suit.

Ratta could be guilty of embezzlement, misappropriation and swindling and breaking the client and lawyer trust relationship, Miller says.

In addition to $1 million, Miller is asking the court to return to him the money taken from his car.

Miller, a prisoner at the Federal Correctional Institution in Gilmer, is representing himself.

U.S. District Court case number: 5:09-CV-39

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