Halmon L. Banks III, a partner at the workers’ compensation boutique formerly known as Martin Banks, has filed a suit claiming the other partners at the firm have taken steps to drive him out of the firm, including steering big cases away from him, firing his paralegal without his consent and limiting his access to the firm’s case management software.
Banks also filed a motion for special and preliminary injunction and expedited discovery seeking to enjoin the firm from changing its name to Martin LLC.
On Tuesday, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer denied Banks’ motion, finding in a footnote that Banks failed to show how the name change would cause him irreparable harm.
On Tuesday afternoon, the firm sent out a press release announcing it had officially changed its name to Martin LLC.
Glazer said he would make a decision as to whether the case should ultimately be remanded to arbitration if and when preliminary objections are filed.
According to the complaint filed Friday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas’ Commerce Court program, Banks was seeking an injunction against the firm and partners George Martin, Matthew L. Wilson, Joseph C. Huttemann, Alfred J. Carlson and John P. Dogum to enjoin them from, among other things, locking Banks out of the firm’s offices and removing his name from the firm’s masthead.
"In response to legitimate concerns raised by Banks regarding the allocation and distribution of firm cases and income and his insistence on being provided with firm financial information pursuant to his statutory rights, defendants have engaged in a course of conduct intended to wrongfully freeze out Banks from further participation in the firm," the complaint said.
But the defense argued in an answer to Banks’ motion for special and preliminary injunction filed Monday that Banks owes the firm about $374,000 in unpaid expense obligations.
Under the firm’s operating agreement, according to the complaint, Martin Banks assigns both firm files — cases that come to the firm through its general advertising — and files credited to Martin evenly among the partners.
Those files usually generate enough attorney fees to cover each partner’s pro rata share of the firm’s expenses, according to the complaint.
In late 2010 and early 2011, Banks noticed a "precipitous decline" in the number of firm and Martin files being assigned to him, leaving him with insufficient attorney fees to cover his share of the firm’s expenses, the complaint alleged.
According to the complaint, Banks was assigned 32 firm files and 61 Martin files in 2010, fewer than any of the other partners. By contrast, Dogum, the partner who was assigned the second fewest number of files that year, was assigned 69 firm files and 117 Martin files, according to the complaint.
In 2011, the complaint alleged, Banks was assigned 57 firm files and 54 Martin files, while Dogum was assigned 98 firm files and 131 Martin files.
In 2012, according to the complaint, Banks was assigned 77 firm files and 52 Martin files. Huttemann, the partner who was assigned the second fewest of those files that year, was assigned 117 firm files and 120 Martin files, according to the complaint.
But the defendants, in an answer, called the statistics Banks cited in the complaint "duplicitous."
According to the defendants’ answer, the firm and Martin file statistics Banks cited in the complaint pertained to pending cases, not assigned cases.
In fact, Banks has been assigned his fair share of cases, the defense argued in its answer.
The complaint alleged that when Banks confronted Martin in November 2011 about the allocation of cases, Martin denied that there was any discrepancy between the number of files being assigned to Banks and the number of files being assigned to the other partners.
The complaint alleged that, because of the decline in the number of firm and Martin files he was being assigned, Banks spent most of 2011 using a portion of the attorney fees he earned from his own credit cases to pay his share of the firm’s expenses.
In December 2011, according to the complaint, Banks stopped using the attorney fees from his own credit cases to supplement the payment of his share of the firm’s expenses, but continued to contribute all of his attorney fees from firm, Martin and Social Security files toward the firm’s expenses.
The complaint also alleged that the firm has denied Banks access to the firm’s books for an audit and that, in December 2012, the partners held a meeting without Banks and voted that any partner who was not current with his expense obligations would not be assigned any more firm files.
In January, according to the complaint, the partners held another meeting without Banks and voted that any partner who was not current with his expense obligations would no longer be entitled to receive income from firm files he did not handle.
Previously, the complaint said, the attorney who handled the file received 60 percent of the fees and the remaining 40 percent was evenly split among the other partners.
But the defendants argued in their answer that those votes were the result of Banks owing the firm nearly $374,000 in unpaid expense obligations and that, despite being encouraged to discuss the issue at partner meetings throughout 2012, Banks either didn’t attend or left early from those meetings.
In late 2012 and early 2013, according to the defendants’ answer, Banks began informing his staff and others outside the firm that he intended to leave Martin Banks in the near future.
Banks, however, alleged in his complaint that, since December 2012, the firm has limited his access to its case management software, called the Needles Database and Provider Directory.
The complaint also alleged that Banks’ paralegal was fired with no advanced notice.
In addition, according to the complaint, after Banks left a February 20 partnership meeting, the other partners voted to rebrand the firm as Martin LLC and to remove Banks from the masthead.
The partners also voted to make all partner income payable to the LLC, according to the complaint.
"The above actions of the firm make clear that the defendants are taking steps to gain control over the attorney fees that Banks is entitled to from his own cases for improper purposes," the complaint said.
Banks is alleging breach of contract, breach of the Pennsylvania Uniform Partnership Act and breach of fiduciary duty, as well as tortious interference with contract. Banks is also seeking a formal accounting of the firm’s affairs and dissolution of the limited liability company.
But the defendants said in their answer that Banks’ access to the firm’s case management database is not any more limited than that of any of the other partners at the firm.
In addition, the defendants argued in their answer that Banks could not show how changing the firm’s name to Martin LLC would negatively impact his ability to bring in business.
On the contrary, the defendants said in their answer that, given Banks’ intention to leave the firm, more harm would be done to the firm by allowing Banks access to "proprietary and confidential information" and denying the firm the ability to rebrand itself.
"Certainly, plaintiff cannot seriously suggest the firm would be able to use the fictitious designation of Martin Banks after he leaves, nor that it would be in the firm’s best interest to present him with confidential and proprietary information contained in the firm’s computer system when it was apparent that he would deliver that information to one of the firm’s competitors," the defendants said in their answer.
The defendants also argued in their answer that the firm’s operating agreement mandates that partnership disputes be arbitrated.
Following Glazer’s order Tuesday, counsel for the defense, Alan B. Epstein of Spector Gadon & Rosen in Philadelphia, said his clients "are pleased that they can move forward with their plans to operate as Martin LLC and look forward to working other matters out with Mr. Banks."
Banks’ counsel, Howard M. Klein of Conrad O’Brien in Philadelphia, said Tuesday that he and his clients were disappointed with Glazer’s decision and were evaluating their options.