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Glenn Lewis is discovering that there’s only so much time you can buy, especially when you don’t pay for it. Lewis, a prominent divorce lawyer in the D.C. metro area and president of the Virginia Bar Association, has some trouble with his bank, BB&T. In fact, the bank sued Lewis and his law firm at the end of last year for failure to pay back two loans totaling close to $1 million. Over the course of the past eight months, the dispute has become increasingly acrimonious, with counterclaims flying and Lewis refusing to turn over financial records to the bank. “The bank had considered him to be a very good customer, and the bank had a genuine appreciation for its relationship with him and his firm,” says Thomas Murphy of Friedlander, Misler, Sloan, Kletzkin & Ochsman, one of BB&T’s lawyers. “But there has to be limits to that. And the Lewis firm tested those limits, and they’ve now exceeded those limits.” According to D.C. court records, in 2002, Lewis Law Firm borrowed $750,000 from BB&T and later modified the note agreement six times, delaying final payment for three years. The firm also took out another commercial loan for $250,000 in late 2004, which was supposed to be due this October. After the firm defaulted on the first loan, the bank accelerated payment on the second. Lewis and his wife, Kimberly, were guarantors on both loans. The bank says it negotiated with Lewis over a period of seven months, but at the end of 2006, the bank filed suit in D.C. Superior Court against Lewis, his wife, and the firm. “It was regrettable that the bank was forced into a public forum,” says Robert Greenberg, another lawyer for BB&T. The defendants then turned plaintiff, suing the bank for defamation and breach of contract, among other charges, and demanding $2 million in damages. Court documents do not say what the commercial loans were used for or what caused the firm to default on its payments. The defendants’ answer to the BB&T’s complaint denies the bank’s claims and says BB&T “had determined to change the way it conducted business with Defendants, but did not tell them of this change, before they signed the guarantees.” But the Lewis firm’s financial problems weren’t limited to the BB&T loan. According to documents filed in the case by Lewis, on at least one occasion last year the firm’s payroll wasn’t met. These documents also say that the Lewises’ house was put in foreclosure. Lewis argues in court papers that these troubles arose because BB&T failed to properly manage his accounts. Adding to the turmoil, over the past three years, the boutique firm experienced a heavy turnover in its ranks. Lewis would not comment publicly for this story, nor would his attorney, Charles Carpenter, a partner at Pepper Hamilton. Steve Mandell, also a partner at Pepper Hamilton, wrote in an Aug. 10 e-mail to Legal Times that Lewis’ law practice was “flourishing” and “in the midst of its most successful and profitable year ever.” “Having known Glenn Lewis as friend and colleague for many years, I can personally attest to the excellence he and his firm maintain in every aspect of client representation,” Mandell said. “Moreover � amazingly � he continues to find time and energy to devote to leadership positions in the bar and his community. “ “We anticipate the resolution of BB&T’s claims in short order,” Mandell added, noting that Lewis is working on alternative financing with another lender. FROM DIVORCE LAW TO ‘DR. PHIL’ Lewis isn’t your average storefront divorce lawyer. In addition to being president of the Virginia Bar Association, he is a past president of the Fairfax Bar Association � something his firm Web site claims is a first among Virginia lawyers. Lewis also served two terms on the Virginia State Bar Council. He teaches trial and family law courses at George Mason University School of Law and is on the university’s board of visitors. No stranger to the media, Lewis hosted his own TV show, “Law Weekly,” on public access and covered President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and the 2000 election vote recount as the BBC’s legal correspondent. He has even been on “Dr. Phil.” But Lewis doesn’t just play a lawyer on TV. He has an impressive client roster, often handling the domestic disputes of the rich and famous. In naming him one of the top divorce lawyers in the metro area several times, Washingtonian magazine has noted his representation of former Redskins running back John Riggins, TV talk show host John McLaughlin, and Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson. According to his colleagues in the District’s divorce bar, he’s a formidable opponent in the courtroom. “Well, he’s a very good attorney, a very good trial lawyer, and he speaks very, very fast. I presume that means he thinks very fast,” says Marna Tucker, a family law attorney with Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell. “He’s very aggressive in court, but polite. He’s a worthy adversary.” Joseph Paradiso, a former partner with Lewis who now has his own firm, Paradiso, Taub, Sinay & Owel, says, “I can judge talent, and he is a remarkable talent in terms of his ability to try cases.” Ed Bouquet, an associate at Lewis’ firm in the early 1990s, says Lewis was a great mentor for an “embryonic attorney” and says the learning process was constant. “I have never seen anybody who could digest information the way Glenn does,” says Bouquet, who is now a solo practitioner. “He could pick details out of a deposition or a file and pull it together and use that to help a client in a way that was incredible.” BOUNCED CHECKS, MISSED PAYROLL But Lewis’ dispute with his bank has affected his business. In March the bank seized the law firm’s operating account, putting nearly $150,000 toward the loans’ balance. According to Lewis’ counterclaim, the firm had around $60,000 in outstanding checks for court fees and rent and, ironically, a payment for the loan. Additionally, the counterclaim alleges that in March 2006 BB&T dishonored checks that the Lewises had the money to cover, a claim the bank denies. It states that as a result of the bank’s actions, “the Lewis Law Firm and Mr. and Mrs. Lewis suffered substantial economic damage, and noneconomic harm including damage to their credit records and reputations.” The bounced checks led to the firm missing its May payroll. Several former Lewis associates refused to discuss what went on at the firm during this period for fear of retribution. But some said that, though Lewis touts having trained many of the best divorce attorneys in the area, he was often absent from the firm during the past few years and didn’t provide much in the way of mentoring. Lewis Law Firm has hemorrhaged attorneys recently as well, losing around nine lawyers in the past three years. In 2005, the firm had at least eight lawyers in its Rockville, Md., Fairfax, Va., and D.C. offices, but by 2007 only one of those original lawyers besides Lewis remained, according to the firm’s Martindale-Hubbell listings. Since then, the firm has built its numbers back up to seven attorneys, most of them first- or second-year associates. The bank has requested that Judge Gerald Fisher appoint a receiver to monitor the firm’s finances and has asked the firm to voluntarily hand over its bank statements, its general ledger, and its accounts receivable � citing concerns that the firm is “teetering on the edge of insolvency.” In a July 5 e-mail to BB&T’s Green-berg, Carpenter wrote, “We are in the process of putting together a packet of financial records that should address questions about the state of collateral.” Last week, a lawyer for BB&T said the bank had yet to receive the information it requested. The law firm has been making payments on both notes, according to the firm’s countercomplaint, but the amount the firm owes is still in excess of $500,000. It “doesn’t change the fact that the payment in full was due over a year ago,” says BB&T’s Murphy. In June 2003, Lewis contributed an article to Legal Times on the importance of seeking legal counsel early in domestic disputes. In the article he discussed the skills needed to be a good family law practitioner, including an understanding of the benefits of “business reorganization, refinancing,” and “debt payoff.” Lewis wrote, “A sound appreciation of tax, accounting, bookkeeping, estate planning, and business valuation principles is essential.” The question is, did Lewis take his own advice?
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected].

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