CLARKSBURG – An inmate at Mount Olive Correctional Complex and his family have filed suit against the group of lawyers who he says did a shoddy job of defending him.
Lael Brown claims he hired defendant America's Criminal Defense Group in 2006 after he was charged with criminal offenses in Monongalia County. Brown does not specify the criminal offenses with which he was charged, but does say he hired the group to represent him because he was concerned of the representation he would receive with a court-appointed attorney.
Co-plaintiffs Laverne Wright-Ochoa, Charles Browne and Robert Wright discovered America's Criminal Defense Group online while searching for attorneys. They settled on the group because of its representations that it consisted of professional and experienced lawyers across the country who had long , distinguished careers and who were dedicated to defending the rights of the accused, according to the complaint originally filed in Monongalia Circuit Court.
After the plaintiffs contacted the firm, they reached defendant Todd Terry, who advised them that Brown should not take a plea bargain, but should insist on a jury trial.
Once the plaintiffs paid America's Criminal Defense Group $27,900 to represent Brown, Terry told them his firm would plead insanity on behalf of Brown, that the firm would arrange for its own medical evaluation and that it would attempt to get Brown off because he had already served two years, the suit states.
"Defendant Terry told Mr. Browne that ACDG had a way of turning things around to Lael Brown's favor," the complaint says.
However, when the plaintiffs hired Terry, he failed to mention that ACDG had no skilled attorneys in West Virginia. Instead, ACDG retained a Morgantown attorney, who did not have the skill and experience level conveyed on the website, to represent Brown, he claims.
"On information and belief, Mr. Partipilo [owner of the website and defendant] has essentially a web soliciting service wherein, through false representations, he, Mr. Terry, and/or others who work for him convince persons seeking criminal representation that ACDG is a nationwide firm with experienced and highly skilled attorneys who will provide the best representation available to defendants in criminal cases," the suit states.
Contrary to their original representations, the defendants also failed to secure a jury trial for Brown and instead submitted a plea bargain that was similar to the plea bargain the court-appointed attorney had written on Brown's behalf, according to the complaint.
For the Morgantown attorney's work, ACDG paid him $5,390 and kept the remaining $21,610 that the plaintiffs had paid to them, the complaint says.
In their four-count complaint, the plaintiffs allege fraud, breach of contract, unreasonable and unconscionable fees and negligence against the defendants.
They seek an unspecified judgment, plus punitive damages and other relief the court deems just.
The defendants removed the complaint to U.S. District Court because the California-based ACDG is resident of a different state than the West Virginia plaintiffs. In addition, the plaintiffs are seeking a judgment of more than $75,000 – enough to satisfy the federal jurisdiction limit.
The defendants say the case against them should be dismissed because in a contract signed by the plaintiffs, jurisdiction is limited to Los Angeles County.
Allan N. Karlin, Jane E. Peak and Sarah E. Montoro of Allan N. Karlin and Associates in Morgantown will be representing the plaintiffs.
David E. Goddard and Edmund L. Wagoner of Steptoe and Johnson in Clarksburg and Edmund L. Wagoner of Morgantown will be representing the defendants.
The case has been assigned to Judge Irene M. Keeley.
U.S. District Court case number: 1:10-cv-110