Widow may have to pay $230K to lawyers she fired - WSMV News 4

Widow may have to pay $230K to lawyers she fired

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A Clarksville woman may have to pay one-third of a projected settlement to lawyers she fired in the wake of her husband’s death, even though the lawyers last represented her three years before the money was awarded.

It’s the latest developed in a News 4 I-Team investigation into the death of Sergio Lopez, who was killed when a Nashville Ready Mix cement truck crashed into him in 2013.

An I-Team investigation exposed how internal records and an interview with a former co-owner revealed that the company had knowledge that the brakes were faulty in the cement truck before the crash.

Last year, Lopez’s widow, Araceli Cordova, was awarded an undisclosed settlement after she sued Nashville Ready Mix.

Now, Cordova may have to pay one-third of the projected settlement to the attorneys she first hired, and then fired in 2014.

Cordova’s current attorney said it could amount to more than $230,000.

It’s all because her former attorneys filed what’s called an “attorney’s lien,” in which she cannot receive much of the settlement until they are paid.

Through a translator, Cordova said since being awarded the settlement, she has still had to work several jobs to support her two children.

“There's been a lot of desperation,” Cordova said.

But the attorney representing the fired lawyers said they did substantial work and there is proof of that work.

“We're not trying to take her money. We're trying to take the money from the other (Cordova’s current) attorneys, who are trying to take it from us,” said Mark Olson, attorney for the fired litigators.

Dave Rich, Cordova’s current attorney, who has represented her since 2014, said her former attorney did not do enough work to deserve payment.

Rich also pointed out that Cordova signed a contract with one of her former attorneys but never did with the other who was hired, without her knowledge, to work on her case.

“They failed to do any discovery, failed to file an answer, failed to do any investigation in this case whatsoever for over a year. That provides her with cause to fire them,” Rich said.

Olson disputes that claim and said he has filed a motion to compel testimony to prove how much work was completed on behalf of Cordova.

Judge Larry Wallace, who is overseeing the dispute in court, said he is not pleased with how this reflects on the legal profession.

“This court is really saddened by this contested issue of attorney’s fees. This is not, unfortunately, the kind of dispute that promotes the image of legal representation that I believe all of us want to project,” Wallace said.

The I-Team asked Olson how he responds to criticism that this dispute is holding up money that needs to go to a family that has gone through a devastating loss.

“All this kind of discussion trying to couch this as an attorney against a client, it's not. This is a dispute against two attorneys. Basically, that's it,” Olson said.

Olson also pointed out that when the courts this week released the first of the settlement money, $100,000 to Cordova and her two children, his clients did not dispute it.

Judge Wallace asked both sides to provide their arguments in briefs to the court.

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