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Texas State Bar, Exonerated Ex-Prisoners File Suit Against Attorney Over Fees

The State Bar of Texas has filed a lawsuit against Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen, alleging that he grossly overcharged clients in violation of the Bar’s Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Glasheen, who represents over a dozen exonerated former prisoners, charged them about $5 million in combined attorney fees. He gave around $1.5 million to Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, and kept $3.5 million for his law firm.
Glasheen is accused of having told his clients to forgo pursuing lawsuits and instead use the state’s compensation system. He then charged them 25% of the compensation money, which they could have obtained without legal representation.

In fact, an exoneree need only fill out a simple one-page form to request compensation, which doesn’t require an attorney. Some exonerated former prisoners, frustrated with waiting, filled out their own compensation forms and then were billed by Glasheen for 25% of the compensation they received nonetheless.

Glasheen sent Steven C. Phillips, an exoneree who spent 25 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted, a bill for $1 million. Yet according to Phillips, Glasheen never filed a single motion in court on his behalf. Phillips and another of Glasheen’s former clients, exoneree Patrick Waller, filed separate lawsuits against Glasheen over the excessive fees. Waller had paid Glasheen $650,000; a third exoneree, James Giles, later joined Waller’s suit.

Glasheen, who filed a counter-suit, argued that he had lobbied the Texas legislature for two years to get a statute enacted that pays exonerees $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration plus a lifetime annuity – a substantial increase over the previous compensation law. Waller and Phillips countered that they hired Glasheen to be their lawyer, not their lobbyist. [See: PLN, Aug. 2010, p.12].

“It sucked the life out of me,” said Phillips. “There could be some sort of reasonable fee for lobbying. The gist of my complaint is I didn’t hire him to lobby. I hired him to sue the City of Dallas.”

Attorney Randy Turner, who represents Waller, Phillips and Giles, called Glasheen’s fees “grossly unfair” and “obscene.”

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said Turner, who also accused Blackburn of referring lucrative wrongful conviction cases to Glasheen, who would pay him a “kickback” for the referrals.

Glasheen’s position is that he made his clients wealthy by successfully lobbying the legislature and is now being punished for it. As an example, he says Phillips would have received $1.2 million under the previous compensation law but is now eligible for up to $4 million.

“We are dealing with a novel approach that we took to getting these clients some good results,” said Glasheen. “And it was risky and it worked out really well and there was a lot of money involved. It is only when we are really successful and there is a lot of money at stake that anyone would worry about fees.”

Of course, Glasheen did not single-handedly enact the legislation. There were many activists involved in passage of the act, which was named after the first Texas prisoner to be exonerated posthumously, after he died in prison – Timothy Cole. [See: PLN, July 2009, p.12].

Further, the question isn’t whether Glasheen was instrumental in getting the legislation passed. It is whether the exonerees agreed to pay for his lobbying efforts and, if so, whether the millions he charged were reasonable.

Glasheen issued a statement in January 2011, addressing the State Bar’s lawsuit and defending his work to obtain compensation for exonerees. He noted that his law firm had “spent thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars advancing this group of wrongful conviction cases,” and denied any impropriety in lobbying for higher statutory compensation amounts for exonerated prisoners.

Meanwhile, Phillips asked the court to void the contingent fee agreement with Glasheen as being “unconscionable at its inception, and [] thus unenforceable as a matter of law.” The district court, ruling on a summary judgment motion on October 3, 2011, rejected Phillips’ claim against Glasheen for “charging ... a fee for lobbying when [he was] not hired for that purpose.”

The court also rejected Glasheen’s argument that to void a contract due to unconscionability the complaining party must show both procedural and substantive unconscionability.

“When one whittles through the often emotional bark to reach the hardwood of facts and law that actually underpin the outcomes of the parties’ motions, neither side is so seriously blameless or blameworthy as portrayed,” wrote District Court Judge Ken Molberg.

The case settled on November 10, 2011, with Glasheen refunding the attorney fees paid by Waller and Giles. Phillips will not have to pay anything to Glasheen and vice versa.
See: Phillips v. Glasheen, Dallas County District Court (TX), Case No. DC-09-12513-D. The State Bar suit against Glasheen remains pending.

On June 17, 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law a bill (HB 417) that prohibits attorneys from charging exonerees a percentage of their compensation award for “preparing, filing, or curing” a compensation application; instead, attorneys may only charge a fee “based on a reasonable hourly rate.” The law takes effect on January 1, 2012.
According to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, the state has paid over $41 million in compensation to “about 70 people” who were wrongly convicted.

Sources: Associated Press,,,

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Related legal case

Phillips v. Glasheen