Timeliness a seeming issue with Grafton

By Lawrence Smith | Oct 30, 2009

WINFIELD - A wage collection suit is only the latest in a serious of legal woes attorney John Grafton has faced in recent years.

Records show Grafton was sued by another former employee in 2003 for unpaid wages, reprimanded by the state Supreme Court in 2007, and sued earlier this year by his landlord for unpaid office rent.

Regina M. Inghram was Grafton's first employee to allege he was delinquent in paying on time. In a suit filed in Putnam Magistrate Court on April 3, 2003, Inghram, a Hurricane resident, alleged Grafton failed to pay her $479.88 within 72 hours after resigning her position.

Her position in Grafton's firm is not stated in court records. Nevertheless, three weeks later Grafton filed his answer saying he was not her employer, and she not only failed to allege any wrong-doing, but also state a sufficient claim.

The case was dismissed on Sept. 30, 2003, when Inghram and Grafton reached an out-of-court settlement.

Court punishes foot-dragging

Over two years later, Grafton's timeliness would be called into question. Only this time it would be from clients, and not an employee.

On Jan. 19, 2006, James A. Smith filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, alleging Grafton charged an unreasonable fee, and failed to keep him informed on the status of his father's estate.

According to Smith, Grafton did not keep in touch with him until November 2005 when the case was scheduled for arbitration. Records show Smith initially was satisfied with the arbitrator's decision, but in December 2005 became dissatisfied, paid the arbitrator and retained new counsel to settle the estate.

About the same time Smith filed his, Naomi G. Hudson and Betty J. Craig filed complaints against Grafton. Though the details of their complaints are not stated, Grafton's failure to respond to them, along with his inaction in Smith's case, were sufficient grounds for ODC to bring a statement of charges against him.

A statement of charges serves as an indictment for disciplinary purposes.

In response to the statement, the Supreme Court on Nov. 20, 2007, reprimanded Grafton, and ordered him to complete three additional hours of continuing education specifically in the areas of office management, substance abuse and elimination of bias. Also, the Court ordered Grafton to be supervised by another attorney for a year in which the attorney-supervisor would conduct an initial review of his office practices and report any complaints from clients to ODC.

Late with the rent

Grafton's current money problems can be traced to a suit his firm's landlord, Craig Miller, filed earlier this year for past-due rent. In his suit filed on May 28 in Magistrate Court, Miller, who owns Teays Professional Properties in Scott Depot, alleged Grafton was in arrears $4,000.

In his suit, Miller said he agreed to lease space to Grafton despite his refusal to sign a formal lease agreement. In addition to the $4,000 outstanding, Miller asked he be awarded the current month's rent of $1,500, $595 in legal fees and immediate possession of the office.

Records show the case was initially scheduled for trial on June 25, but postponed when Miller and Grafton apparently attempted to reach a settlement. Following a motion by Miller filed on July 22, the case was transferred to Putnam Circuit Court where it is pending before Judge O.C. "Hobby" Spaulding.

Putnam Magistrate Court, case numbers 03-C-280 (Inghram) and 09-C-265 (Miller); West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 33153

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