By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
BRENTWOOD – The lawyer representing the first victim to be awarded $1.5 million for abuse suffered as a child incarcerated at the Youth Development Center filed a motion Wednesday to strike the lien his former lawyers filed against his maximum recovery arguing they did nothing to earn their fee.
The victim, known as John Doe #95, fired attorneys Rus Rilee and David Vicinanzo who had filed his case in Superior Court and hired Concord attorney Chuck Douglas who helped him settle his claim for $1.5 million through the YDC Claims Administration and Settlement Fund. The YDC Claims Fund was set up by the state Legislature with $100 million earmarked for the hundreds of victims of sexual and physical abuse who have come forward as adults. It started accepting claims on Jan. 1, 2023.
The court should strike the Aug. 2, 2022, lien because John Doe #95 was awarded the $1.5 million “exclusively through the efforts of Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C., because no basis for the lien exists, where Mr. Doe terminated former counsel’s representation well before his YDC Claims Fund ‘proceeding’ commenced.
“Moreover, Mr. Doe’s former counsel played no role in obtaining said recovery, where they refused to pursue relief from the YDC Claims Fund for Mr. Doe despite his repeated pleas to do so, treated him with blatant disrespect, and failed to communicate adequately with him—conduct which supported Mr. Doe’s for-cause termination of their representation and which also violated the Rules of Professional Conduct,” attorney Chuck Douglas’ motion states. It was filed in Rockingham County Superior Court Wednesday.
According to the motion, Rilee connected John Doe #95 with a settlement funding company so he could obtain a loan, or pre-settlement advance funding.
John Doe # 95 owes Universal Funds $124,678, but it is unclear how much of that is interest as the firm charges 35.4 percent interest and he began drawing money in the summer of 2021.
“Like Mr. Doe, hundreds of claimants have, to date, borrowed millions of dollars at approximately 35.4% interest a year,” Douglas wrote.
John Doe #95 will also be required to pay Douglas 33 percent of the $1.5 million award, which is the percentage lawmakers determined was the maximum for lawyers representing clients in the YDC Claims Fund.
Rilee and Vicinanzo’s fee is 40 percent of the award for the cases they are bringing in Superior Court, the motion said.
Vicinanzo and Rilee, who represent 1,100 of the adults who were child victims of the state, representing most of the victims who have come forward.
“Only Rus and Laurie Rilee had the courage to break the State’s code of silence about its grotesque abuse of our children at the Sununu Center (formerly called YDC) by filing the first case in 2020,” Rilee and Vicinanzo said in a statement when asked for comment.
“Thereafter, they teamed with Nixon Peabody to continue together unmasking the biggest government scandal in the State’s history. Without our tenacity in fighting the State relentlessly on behalf of their abused clients, there would be no settlement fund which, low ball and victim-unfriendly as it is, only exists because Rilee and Nixon Peabody forced the State to ‘do something.’ No one else was willing or fearless enough to try.”
Rilee and Vicinanzo were critical of Douglas’ motion.
“The motion is premised on false assertions and quotes generated to avoid legal obligations. The actual facts will be presented through our counsel in court. We will correct the record and defend our good work aggressively,” Rilee and Vicinanzo said.
Douglas and Attorney General John Formella have been outspoken publicly in favor of the YDC Claims Administration and Settlement Fund saying it will be much faster than spending years in court in the lawsuit.
Vicinanzo has been equally outspoken against victims using the state fund claiming the state wants to “low-ball” the awards victims will receive to save the state money.
On Aug. 2, 2022, Rilee and Vicinanzo sought “their attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to the terms of their contingency fee agreement with John Doe #95,” Douglas wrote.
Attorney Vicinanzo told John Doe #399, according to Douglas’ motion, that:
“If I switched attorneys for my YDC case, I would have to pay Attorney Vicinanzo and Attorney Rilee their fee (which I understood to mean 40 %), that I would separately have to pay Douglas, Leonard & Garvey’s firm their one-third fee, and that I would be left with the remainder (i.e., 26 & 2/3 %) of the compensation from my YDC case.”
In his affidavit, John Doe # 95 wrote: “When Rilee continually refused to withdraw his case from court and file with YDC Claims fund, ‘I told him I was firing him and would seek other counsel.’”
Rilee responded, “If you fire me good luck getting your money.”
“When I said I would go to the Attorney General on my own to try and settle my case, attorney Rilee responded to the effect of, “So they can throw $30,000 at you to get you out of their (expletive) face? You won’t get the kind of money you’ll get with me. I’m not gonna let a minnow slide through the net and (expletive) up a big case for me.” Rilee then told him he had calls coming in and ended the call, the motion states.
Doe said he terminated Rilee and Associates and Nixon Peabody for several reasons: they didn’t communicate frequently about status of his case; they were disrespectful and inappropriate and refused to help accomplish his goals…they told him he would disrupt their financial interests and the financial interests of their other clients.
Douglas’s firm put his interests first and “they treated me with respect, kindness and support, Doe said.
“Because of the way that Rilee and Associates and Nixon Peabody treated me I do not want them to receive any fees from the settlement of my case. I asked them to settle my case for me through YDC Claims fund when I was still their client and they refused,” John Doe #95 wrote.