CHARLESTON – A New York woman is accusing a Calhoun County attorney of "legal tomfoolery" in representing her interests in an estate dispute in neighboring Gilmer County.
Marlea Cottrill on April 9 filed an ethics complaint against F. John Oshoway with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates attorney misconduct.
In her complaint, Cottrill, 51, of Jump, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse, hired Oshoway, 60, a sole practitioner in Grantsville, to defend her in a lawsuit involving the estate of her late father, Willard, only to have him do next to nothing.
According to her complaint, Willard Cottrill passed away in October 2010 "under extreme and unusual circumstances." In June, Cottrill was named as a co-defendant in a suit to quiet title filed by the estate's executor, Michael W. Murphy, her brother-in-law in Gilmer Circuit Court.
The suit seeks to divest any interest on Willard's property in Linn claimed by Ruth Mitchell, the other co-defendant. According to the suit, Willard in his will dated Nov. 1, 2006, requested Mitchell, "be provided a residence on his real property," but "'shall not preclude divestiture of the property by heirs, and is not intended to establish a life tenancy.'"
It was not until two months later, Cottrill says, that she found out about it, and only through Mitchell. In a panic, she says she drove nine hours to Gilmer County to find an attorney to answer the complaint or risk losing all her rights to inheritance.
Eventually, she found Oshoway who agreed to accept her case for $2,000. Initially, Cottrill paid him $500, and sent him a check for the balance after returning to New York.
Between then and last month, Cottrill says Oshoway has failed to communicate with her about not only the status of the case, but its implications. Also, he has failed to provide her copies of any court documents filed since then including her answer.
All documents she's received have either been provided by Mitchell or her attorney, Dan Grindo. A copy of the answer Oshoway filed for Cottrill, that Grindo's office sent her via fax on Sept. 2, 2011, does not bear the time-stamp of the circuit clerk's office.
Because she was not properly served with a summons, and copy of the complaint, Cottrill says Oshoway should've moved to have her dismissed from the suit. However, he failed to do that.
Eventually, Cottrill says she received a telephone call from Oshoway early last month. In it, she says he expressed bewilderment she hadn't received any documents from him, but would ensure she receive a copy of all pleadings made since she hired him.
However, when she did not receive anything after two weeks, Cottrill wrote him a letter asking him to withdraw from the case. In her letter, she also asked he provide an accounting of his work, and a refund of her retainer.
Shortly thereafter, Oshoway responded saying he would be filing a motion to withdraw as her attorney. However, he disputed receiving an additional $1,500 from her after the initial $500. Instead, he said the check she sent was for $1,000.
In her complaint, Cottrill says that "is absolutely untrue" and provided a copy of the cancelled check Oshoway cashed for $1,500. Also, she made clear the basis of her complaint she was not disputing Oshoway's fee, but instead his "lack of communication, and zealous representation for the work I thought I paid him to do."
"One of my concerns," Cottrill said, "is the area of West Virginia that Mr. Oshoway works from is severely economically depressed and I wonder how often this sort of legal tomfoolery happens."
"I fear for the people of Calhoun and Gilmer counties that have no other means of justice as Mr. Oshoway doesn't seem the least bit inclined to follow up on clients' needs or wishes once he has been paid," Cottrill added. "And even then, Mr. Oshoway doesn't seem to feel the need to accurately reflect records of payment received by those clients."
When reached for a comment about Cottrill's complaint, Oshoway said "I was not aware it." Also, he said "I wouldn't comment on it" after seeing it.
According to ODC, Cottrill's complaint is one of four pending against Oshoway.