Ex-partner suing Fieger Law for professional misconduct, ‘intolerable behavior’

It’s been a year since Ven Johnson’s high-profile split from Geoffrey Fieger’s eponymous law firm. And according to a recently filed lawsuit in Oakland County, he has some unfinished business.

The Detroit News reports that Johnson’s suit, which was filed last week and assigned to Judge Wendy Potts, alleges that professional misconduct, violation of state business law, and Fieger’s demeanor caused him to quit.

In the complaint, Johnson wrote that “[t]he combination of intolerable behavior, broken promises and false representations, the mistreatment of clients, ethically questionable edicts, the loss of experienced trial attorneys, the failure to provide corporate books, records and accounts, as well as other actions … resulted in a deterioration of the business and compelled” his resignation.

Michigan Lawyers Weekly reported last year that Fieger put new policies into place at his firm, including a requirement that trial lawyers keep a caseload of 30 cases at all times. In addition, if three cases didn’t go to trial every year, the lawyer on that case would face having to pay a $25,000 fine. Eleven attorneys have since left.

“The reason Fieger Law has survived for this long, and the reason Geoffrey Fieger is still in business, is because of the high demands I put on these lawyers,” he told Lawyers Weekly at the time.

In Johnson’s complaint, he wrote that such a stipulation “was onerous, unprecedented and of questionable ethics, given that clients, rather than lawyers, have the sole right to determine whether they wish to accept a settlement or proceed to trial.”

The News noted that Johnson alleged he has suffered “significant and irreparable harm to his ongoing law practice” as a result of Fieger’s actions and behavior. Johnson is seeking compensatory damages, claiming he was cheated of compensation, including a percentage of wages and settlements reached by the firm, and he also seeks full accounting of the law firm’s books from 2001 to 2011.

UPDATE: In response to the suit, Fieger told Lawyers Weekly that Johnson “must be in financial trouble,” and that his tactical skills “are second only to Charlie Sheen. … He jumped off a cliff and now he regrets it.” Fieger said that he believes the case will be dismissed, “and then you won’t write another thing about it, because you won’t be interested in hearing the liar, only in the ridiculous claims he made.”

Fieger partner splitting off to start solo practice

One of Michigan’s most talked-about plaintiff’s firms has something worth talking about once again.

Ven Johnson, partner at Southfield-based Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Johnson & Giroux PC, announced Friday, May 13, that he will be leaving the firm to start his own practice.

At the Michigan Association for Justice’s annual meeting in Dearborn, Johnson told Michigan Lawyers Weekly that he expects to open his practice in Birmingham at the beginning of July.

In June 2008, Johnson and Fieger Law founder Geoffrey Fieger were acquitted in federal court on charged of illegally channeling money to the failed 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat John Edwards.

UPDATE: According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Johnson has already left Fieger Law, in that Fieger had a disagreement about Johnson’s departure date following Lawyers Weekly‘s above report.

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At least she wasn’t on Oceanic Flight 815

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger has filed a four-count lawsuit for negligence, false imprisonment, emotional distress and breach of contract, after his client, Ginger McGuire of Ferndale, was locked on an airplane for four hours after it landed.

The Detroit News reports:

[McGuire] flew Monday on a trip for an accounting training session that began in Detroit and ended in Philadelphia. During her travels, she was shuttled to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., before heading to Philadelphia, where she was left stranded on the airplane after landing.

McGuire said she was exhausted from traveling and fell asleep as soon as she took her seat on the Philadelphia-bound Trans States airplane — Trans States works in conjunction with United Airlines. She was not taking medication and did not have any alcohol to drink.

McGuire woke up at 3:50 a.m. and found herself alone on the 50-seat plane.

McGuire said she walked up and down the aisle for 15 minutes. She said she panicked and didn’t think of calling for help.

“Then the door to the airplane opened and two Philadelphia police officers were standing there with a TSA officer,” McGuire said. “They wouldn’t let me off the plane until I proved who I was. It was like, ‘Show us your ID, show us your ID.’”

Officials let her go after about 10 minutes. McGuire then checked into a local hotel.

6th Circuit: Fieger’s MSC recusal suit moot

The Sixth Circuit has turned down what it describes as Geoffrey Fieger’s “latest attempt to involve the federal courts in his long-running dispute with several justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.”

In Fieger v. Gromek, et al., the Southfield attorney took another run at Justices Maura Corrigan, Robert Young, Stephen Markman and former Justice Clifford Taylor who, thanks to his losing re-election bid in 2008, is no longer a party to the suit. They’ve been instrumental in zapping some very large judgments Fieger obtained for his clients. So, Fieger has been, and probably will always be, their very vocal critic.

And, according to Sixth Circuit Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, the four have dished it right back:

The justices have publicly responded to Fieger’s comments during the course of their re-election campaigns, suggesting to the citizens of Michigan that being despised by Fieger is not necessarily a bad thing.

Fieger’s previous federal-court attempts to keep Corrigan, et al. from hearing his appeals have focused on violations of his clients’ rights to a fair and impartial tribunal.

In Fieger v. Gromek, he took a more personal tack. From Gibbons’ opinion:

Rather than assert the alleged harm to his clients’ interests by the potential absence of an impartial tribunal, the current suit seeks to vindicate Fieger’s own personal interest “to pursue his chosen profession, avocation and occupation free from reprisal for exercising his First Amendment rights … and to have his cases … decided by a fair, independent, and impartial tribunal.”

Fieger alleges that the justices’ “public, personal, political, and professional animus” toward him requires their recusal and that the justices’ failure to do so violates his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law.

U.S. District Court Judge Mariann Battani dismissed the case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Fieger appealed.

Gibbons noted that the doctrine only applies when the alleged harm is based on a past state-court judgment. So, Fieger couldn’t complain about the justices’ prior failures to recuse but he could “potentially” claim that future failures would violate his 14th Amendment rights.

More from Gibbons:

On remand, the district court determined that while Fieger had brought both facial and as-applied challenges to Michigan’s recusal procedure, only the facial challenge survived the issuance of our mandate. …

The district court reasoned that an as-applied challenge “in future cases” necessarily “does not and cannot exist” because as-applied challenges can only concern past actions of the parties involved. … According to the district court, as-applied challenges exist solely “to redress existing violations,”not future ones. … Turning to the merits of the remaining facial challenge, the district court found that Fieger’s claim could not succeed because Michigan’s existing recusal procedures would not be clearly unconstitutional in all circumstances.

Gibbons then noted that Battani didn’t get it exactly right:

It is clear that our prior holding explicitly acknowledged that Fieger’s suit contained an as-applied challenge to Michigan’s recusal rules in addition to his facial attack. … As we did not consider that our holding prohibited Fieger from advancing his as-applied challenge on remand, it was error for the district court to cite our opinion as the basis for its decision to refuse to consider the claim.

But it’s all a moot point now said Gibbons:

On November 25, 2009, the Michigan Supreme Court formally amended MCR 2.003, specifically providing for its application to justices of that court. …
The amendments also incorporate several changes that directly address and clarify the issues underlying Fieger’s challenge.

For example, the disqualification rule now expressly addresses the question of bias or any appearance of bias that may arise from a judge’s campaign speech: “A judge is not disqualified based solely upon campaign speech protected by Republican Party of Minn. v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002), so long as such speech does not demonstrate bias or prejudice or an appearance of bias or prejudice for or against a party or an attorney involved in the action.”

Fieger still has some big cases swirling around on appeal. See, The Michigan Lawyer, “Judicial disqualification: To participate or not participate? That is the question.”

Campaign season is just around the corner.

The next move, if anybody makes one, should be interesting.

Disqualification motion denied

Fears that “the appearance of impropriety” standard may be too low and too subjective might be put to rest, with the release of the first ruling in a Michigan Supreme Court disqualification motion.

Southfield-based attorney Geoffrey Fieger had moved to disqualify justices Stephen J. Markman, Robert P. Young and Maura D. Corrigan in Anthony PELLEGRINO v. AMPCO Systems Parking (No. 137111). Fieger claimed those justices are biased against him and his firm, based on past political campaign speech.

But Markman cited staleness, having said during his 2000 reelection campaign only that Fieger had made campaign contributions to his opponents; and once during a speech to a medical society, Markman had made a statement about “trial lawyers” but did not mention Fieger nor his firm by name.

And the statements are just so old, Markman wrote: “He mistakenly attributes to 2002 several matters that are supported by exhibits having occurred during 2000. While, properly, there may be no statute of limitations to claims of bias or prejudice, the staleness of a complaint must at least constitute one factor in assessing the ‘appearance of propriety’ …”

In deciding some 40,000 cases, Markman said,  “Counsel has prevailed in those cases in which, in my judgment, the law was on his side, and he has not prevailed in those cases in which, in my judgment the law was not on his side.”

Further, he pointed out that he had once before disqualified himself from participating in a Fieger case, Fieger v Cox, 480 Mich 874 (2007), because it pertained to Markman’s reelection campaign in 2004.

Young and Corrigan did not participate in the Markman disqualification motion, but justices Diane M. Hathaway, Michael F. Cavanagh, Elizabeth A. Weaver and Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly concurred.

Though certainly the newly adopted MCR 2.003 states that the appearance of impropriety is a ground for judicial disqualification, Weaver wrote in her concurring statement, “The statements made by Justice Markman were made before this Court adopted MCR 2.003 as amended. We will not apply the appearance-of-impropriety standard retroactively to statements made by a justice concerning a party or party’s attorney prior to the rule’s amendments. However, we will apply the standard prospectively to statements made by a justice concerning a party or a party’s attorney from the date that the order amending MCR 2.003 was entered.”

Kelly also noted the staleness of the complaints against Markman.

“It is not alleged that Justice Markman has made subsequent public comments about attorney Geoffrey Fieger,” she wrote. “Moreover Justice Markman’s voting pattern over the past decade does not reflect bias against Mr. Fieger or the appearance of bias …”