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The remnants of the Yoss law firm face legal fallout in Atlanta two months after it shut down in the wake of the suspension of the law license of founding partner Henry “Hank” Adorno by the Florida Supreme Court.

The defunct firm’s landlord at Two Midtown Plaza has filed suit in Fulton County State Court against what was in the end called Yoss LLC, seeking nearly $500,000 in unpaid rent and other costs.

And last week a former Adorno & Yoss client, whose confidential settlement of a trade dress action forestalled hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and sanctions ordered by a federal judge, sued the firm and two former members, Cary Ichter and Guy H. Weiss, for malpractice in Fulton County Superior Court.

The firm, which in 2008 counted more than 300 lawyers in 21 offices and affiliates in the United States and abroad, officially disbanded March 31.

The difficulties became public when Adorno’s law license was suspended last October for his role representing Miami taxpayers in a class action against the city, which settled for $7 million. The trial judge later voided the settlement when it emerged that only seven people would benefit and Adorno’s firm, then Adorno & Yoss, would pocket $2 million in fees. The Florida Bar found the fees to be excessive, and the state high court followed the suspension with an April order declaring Adorno’s law license should remain suspended for three years. Three days after Adorno’s suspension, the firm’s partners voted to keep the firm intact under the name of the remaining founding partner, George T. Yoss.

But a spate of bounced paychecks, unpaid vendors and departing lawyers — even entire offices — spelled the end for the short-lived firm, and creditors began circling.

The Daily Business Review reported Wells Fargo held $8 million of the firm’s debt, and a Miami attorney quickly garnished the firm’s bank account to recover a $1.5 million malpractice judgment. Two more lawyers filed a malpractice action seeking an $11.3 million judgment awarded in a 2006 Internet defamation case.

Unpaid Rent


The Atlanta back-rent case was filed April 8 by Mitchell S. Rosen and Kimberly C. Sheridan of Kitchens Kelley Gaynes on behalf of Midtown Plaza Buildings.

The suit said Yoss owed $485,230 for office space at Two Midtown Plaza, including $253,983 in unpaid rent, $209,772 in “excused rent” pursuant previous amendments to the lease and $21,475 in late fees, interest and unpaid parking fees.

The suit does not indicate how many months’ worth of rent Yoss failed to pay, but a May 24 “post-judgment” request for production of documents and interrogatories seeks all of the firm’s banking, financial and billing records since Jan. 1.

There is no defense attorney of record in the case. Queries to George Yoss were not returned. John H. Horne, former managing partner of the firm’s Atlanta office and now with Weissman Nowack Curry & Wilco, said he knew nothing about the suit or its allegations.

Rosen said his client would not allow him to comment on the suit.

Seized Sander

The legal malpractice complaint in Atlanta stems from a dispute that began in 2008 when Adorno & Yoss’ client, North Carolina-based equipment manufacturer Costa & Grissom Machinery, filed a complaint against a Chinese competitor, Qingdao Giantway Machinery and co-defendant Lobo Machinery. The suit alleged a sanding machine displayed at an Atlanta woodworking trade show purportedly made by Giantway and bearing Lobo’s logo was actually made by Costa & Grissom.

The suit was originally filed in Fulton County Superior Court, where a judge granted a temporary restraining order and ordered the machine seized. The case was removed to Atlanta federal court, where U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. ordered Costa & Grissom to post a $200,000 bond requested by Giantway as security for what it claimed was the wrongful seizure of its sander.

There followed what Pannell would later term a “contentious motions practice,” during which Costa & Grissom was represented by Ichter and Weiss.

In court orders, Pannell severely criticized both Costa & Grissom CEO Scott Grissom and the company’s attorneys. Pannell wrote they had “acted willfully in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly and for oppressive reasons” and had “blatantly misrepresented the law” by selectively quoting from a Georgia statute regarding trademark infringement to make it appear the seizure was lawful when it was not.

The judge also granted summary judgment to Giantway on its counterclaim for wrongful seizure of the sander.

Costa & Grissom, which had by then hired new counsel, and its former attorneys and their firm were ordered to pay almost $312,000 in attorney fees, costs and expenses.

Pannell later said Adorno & Yoss, Ichter and Weiss should pay additional fees and costs related to litigating the sanctions and an unsuccessful appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The costs were calculated to be about $380,000, although the judge never approved that sanction.

Instead, the case settled in March, and Pannell agreed to dismiss the sanctions with all parties’ consent, although he refused to soften the tone of his earlier orders.

“Lawyers in general, and the plaintiff’s former counsel in particular, must know that it is improper to misquote controlling law to a court and that knowingly doing so is sanctionable conduct,” he wrote. “The court finds no error in its prior orders and adheres to the findings and conclusions.”

Malpractice Claim

The terms of the settlement were confidential, but the legal malpractice suit filed in state court May 27, said the $200,000 bond — ordered released from the court registry to Giantway in December before the settlement — is among the damages claimed by Costa & Grissom.

In the malpractice case, Costa & Grissom is represented by Lamar Archer & Cofrin partner Robert C. Lamar and Scott F. Wyatt of High Point, North Carolina’s Wyatt Early Harris Wheeler.

The complaint also seeks reimbursement of all fees and expenses paid to the lawyers during their representation as well as those incurred by subsequent counsel in the federal case, the costs and expenses of the new case, and punitive damages.

According to filings in North Carolina federal court, Costa & Grissom filed a virtually identical malpractice suit there earlier this year but agreed to voluntary dismissal when Yoss, Ichter and Weiss filed motions for summary judgment based on jurisdictional arguments.

Wyatt declined to discuss the particulars of the malpractice case or any details of the settlement in the federal action.

“The pleadings in the underlying federal case are open and can be judged on their merits,” he said.

Asked whether Yoss has any resources to pursue, Wyatt said that question remains open.

“I can’t speculate,” he said. “These actions all have discovery proceedings, and perhaps we’ll find out then.”

Ichter, who left Adorno & Yoss in October 2009 to found a new firm, IchterThomas, was unavailable for comment by deadline. But he previously defended the actions cited by Pannell as good faith efforts to “offer technically correct information” to the court.

“There’s essentially a presumption that anything that the court viewed that should have been done a different way, that’s evidence of bad faith,” Ichter said last year. “And there are not supposed to be presumptions of bad faith like that.”

Wyatt said both Yoss and Ichter were represented in the North Carolina action by Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young’s M. Elizabeth O’Neill. Neither she nor firm partner Teresa E. Lazzaroni, who is listed as counsel in court filings, responded to requests for comment.

Weiss’s attorney, Mark D. Lefkow of Nall & Miller, said he would have no comment on the case.

In his motion to dismiss filed in the North Carolina suit, Weiss describes his role as minimal.

“In connection with the specific representation of (Costa & Grissom), Mr. Weiss was merely a ‘C partner’ in the firm of Adorno & Yoss” whose contact with the client “was limited to meeting with (Costa & Grissom)’s representatives in Georgia and exchanging emails and telephone calls.”

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