A New Orleans attorney is accusing a client of fraud and breach of contract in a lawsuit filed after the client allegedly breached an attorney fee agreement and contract.
Arguing the client is attempting to withhold his attorney's fees, New Orleans attorney James L. Arruebarrena is suing Cherie Garman in Orleans Parish District Court.
Within his lawsuit, Arruebarrena states that Garman originally contacted him on May 9 of this year requesting that he represent her in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-sponsored mediation against her employer, Helix Energy Solutions. The mediation was scheduled on May 11.
Arruebarrena's associate, Rachel Martin-Deckelmann, emailed Garman the fee agreement and contract shortly after the initial telephone call, his suit claims.
Although Garman began emailing documents and exhibits to Arruebarrena's office, Garman called and stated she could not "open the contract" due to the version of her computer program, the suit claims.
The following day the contract was emailed again, this time in the body of an email.
"Garman represented that she would sign the contract and fax it back to Arruebarrena Law Firm immediately, as the mediation was scheduled for the next morning," the lawsuit states.
Also on May 10, Arruebarrena contacted the mediator and confirmed that he could participate as Garman's attorney via telephone and he signed the EEOC's Consent to Mediate as "Charging Party's Representative."
On the morning of the mediation, Arruebarrena had a medical emergency and his associate Martin-Deckelmann was instructed to represent Garman during the telephone mediation, the suit claims.
Martin-Deckelmann called Garman approximately an hour before the mediation to go over their legal strategy. According to the complaint, Garman told Martin-Deckelmann that she had signed the contract and faxed the contract to the Arruebarrena Law Firm.
Before the mediation began, Garman signed and faxed the Consent to Mediate to the mediator, the suit claims. She signed the form as "Charging Party's Representative," the suit claims,
The meditation lasted approximately five hours until the parties agreed on a $100,000 settlement, the suit claims.
During a break in the mediation, Martin-Deckelmann learned that the contract had not been received by her law firm as promised by Garman. When questioned by her attorney, Garman promised she would fax the contract again after the mediation had concluded, the suit claims.
"At no time during the mediation did Ms. Garman state that she did not sign the contract; in fact, at all times, Ms. Garman represented that she had signed the contract," Arruebarrena's lawsuit states.
When it was time to state how the settlement funds were to be issued, Garman said that she had not signed the contract and that all checks were to be issued to her.
"This was in an effort to prevent Arruebarrena Law Firm from collecting its earned attorneys fees and as such, constitutes a breach of contract," Arruebarrena argues.
According to Arruebarrena's lawsuit, Garman stated she would discuss the attorney's fees with Arruebarrena after she received the settlement funds and then hung up on a phone call with Martin-Decklemann.
Arruebarrena claims that Garman acted fraudulently by lying about signing the contract and faxing it to his office and accuses Garman of acting this way in an effort to deny his share of the settlement for his attorney's services.
Arruebarrena is asking the court for an award of reasonable attorney's fees, with interest, all costs of associated with this case and punitive damages.
Due to the competing claims for the money, Helix Energy Solutions has deposited the disputed amount of $40,000 with the Court.
In response to the lawsuit and the inability to obtain all of her settlement funds, Garman sued Helix Energy Solutions Group, James Arruebarrena and United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Sept. 19 in federal court in New Orleans, as was reported earlier by the Louisiana Record.
Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-02341