Court Nixes 40 Percent Attorneys' Fees

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 30, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

People hate on lawyers for a lot of reasons, but the high fees are often the bottom line.

When people call you a blood-sucker -- and not in a Halloweenish way -- it means you charge too much. And it's not just about the money.

In one North Carolina case, it's about the fee and the clients. The attorneys want $400,000 from clients who didn't understand what they were doing, a judge said.

Lacked Competence

Judge Terrence Boyle says that Henry McCollum lacked competence to sign an agreement to pay lawyers 40 percent of a civil recovery. McCollum and his brother claimed wrongful imprisonment after serving 30 years on charges that were later dropped.

McCollum and Leon Brown, his half-brother, had agreed to a $1 million settlement with investigators who secured fake confessions from them when they were teenagers. But the judge rejected the settlement proposal.

"Despite his desire to proceed for himself and manage his own affairs, McCollum continues to evince signs of being easily manipulated and a lack of understanding of his attorneys," the judge wrote. He did not rule on Brown's case, but wants more information.

In addition to claiming 40 percent of the settlement, the lawyers wanted half of the $750,000 payments from the state to each brother.

Guardian Ad Litem

A guardian ad litem, who has been appointed to the case, said the attorneys steered the brothers into high-interest loans and other "dubious financial arrangements."

"The court concluded that there's no valid representation agreement, so the next step is to address potential claims to recover money that's been taken from him," Raymond Tarlton told the Associated Press.

At the time of their release from prison, McCollum had been the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina's death row. His brother, who was 15 years old at the time of his confession, had been sentenced to life in prison.

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