Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Thank You, Vile Little Man 

Thanks to my ethics professor last year, to whom I frequently referred as a Vile. Little. Man., I won't even think of making the mistake recently made by a New York attorney who refused to return her client's passport until her fees had been paid. She had taken possession of the passport and that of her client's son by legitimate means, when the judge in the now-concluded custody case had ordered the passports held as a guarantee that the mother and son would appear in court. The attorney held onto them after the case was over, as security that she would be paid an outstanding $4500 in fees.

While an unreported earlier federal district case, cited by the attorney, held that there was no reason not to view a passport as security (but found that in that instance no agreement had been signed that the passport indeed would be used as security, so could not be), Judge Philip S. Straniere in this case rejected the notion of ever using a passport to secure fees:
"Allowing an attorney to retain a passport in order to enforce a claim for legal fees is patently unfair and allows an individual to act as the equivalent of a government and restrict the movements of the foreign citizen," he wrote. In disputes between individuals, he added, a person cannot hold a passport "hostage" without court authorization or a written agreement, neither of which applied here.
The thing that really endears this case to me is that the judge, rather than reveal the attorney's name, refers to her by the pseudonym Amanda Bonner, the name of the character played by Katharine Hepburn in Adam's Rib, one of my favorites.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 9:15 AM