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When it comes to unorthodox fee arrangements, Rowayton, Conn., divorce attorney Barbara S. Shea seems to have taken the cake — or at least the very forks and spoons her former client would have used to eat it had Shea not sold them for $6,000 as a means of getting paid. Now, Shea faces presentment in superior court based on Statewide Grievance Committee’s findings that she violated three attorney-ethics rules by hawking the pricey dessert service to a Greenwich, Conn., jeweler despite a court order stipulating that it be returned to Gaetano Ferro. Ferro is the lawyer who opposed Shea in her ex-client’s contentious divorce. Ferro, who claimed he had never before grieved an attorney colleague in 22 years of practicing law, applauded the committee’s Nov. 16 vote. The vote affirmed a reviewing panel’s recommendation that Shea be presented in court for appropriate discipline. Ferro’s client, Robert Brown, had purchased the Faberge cloisonn� dessert service for roughly $50,000 and was slated to receive it under initial negotiations over the division of the couple’s assets, according to Ferro, of New Canaan, Conn.’s Marvin and Ferro. “What frightened me,” he maintained, “was the absolute lack of remorse.” Shea, Ferro added, “would never acknowledge what she did was wrong.” MARITAL PROPERTY? In a Dec. 6 interview, a defiant Shea said she refuses to be intimidated by what she described as a “tempest over a teapot” when all she did was act in her ex-client’s best interests. Shea said she agreed to receive the dessert service and other of Yvonne Brown’s personal property, including jewelry, as partial payment in lieu of cash. She said she was concerned that the wife’s access to the couple’s bank accounts would be cut off once the divorce proceedings were underway, thus limiting her ex-client’s ability to litigate on a level playing field. Indeed, Shea filed a grievance of her own against Ferro, claiming that his client violated court orders by denying Yvonne Brown access to joint funds. The grievance, Ferro noted, was dismissed due to the lack of a probable-cause finding. Furthermore, in Shea’s opinion, the flatware was not marital property because Yvonne Brown gave the set to Shea as part of a fee retainer they both consented to before Robert Brown filed for divorce in March 1999, she maintained. “To say that I should have returned the property,” Shea argued in an Oct. 11 letter requesting that the grievance committee review the findings against her, “would be like saying I should have returned the cash that [Yvonne Brown] gave me to pay for her attorney’s fees.” The cash portion of the payment, Shea reasoned in the letter, “should have been considered more as joint property because it came out of a joint account.” Shea said she agreed to sell the dessert service and other of Yvonne Brown’s personal possessions only if she needed money to continue funding the case, which she maintained was one of the most difficult divorce disputes she’s ever handled in her 15-year career. Among the expenses, Shea said, was the hiring of a wine expert to appraise the wine cellar in the couple’s Darien home. Shea later withdrew from Yvonne Brown’s case, after a disagreement over proposed settlement terms. EXCESSIVE FEES? In total, Shea said she was paid roughly $50,000 at the rate of $250 per hour — $24,945 of which she received by selling the dessert service and Yvonne Brown’s jewelry — and is still trying to collect an additional $40,000 from her ex-client. For a family whose net worth was about $5 million, “it shouldn’t have cost those kind of legal fees,” argued Ferro, who said he charged Robert Brown roughly $50,000 at a rate of $380 an hour. That, he pointed out, was for handling the case from beginning to end. Stamford, Conn., attorney Peter L. Truebner took over Yvonne Brown’s case after Shea withdrew from it. In her Oct. 11 letter to the grievance committee, Shea claimed that Truebner received roughly $15,000 for essentially rubber-stamping her work product. What Ferro doesn’t get is why Shea stipulated to a court order to return the dessert service — as well as other documents and property Yvonne Brown had taken from the couple’s home — if she believed it was hers and planned to sell it. Shea said the stipulation was reached out of court, and she doesn’t recall how it became a court order. Before the reviewing panel that heard the grievance, Shea testified that she sent a letter to Yvonne Brown on Sept. 9, 1999, advising her that the belongings given to Shea in lieu of cash needed to be sold. However, Yvonne Brown testified that she never received the letter and didn’t learn of the items’ sale until Nov. 2, 1999, the date that Truebner filed an appearance on her behalf. In her Oct. 11 letter to the SGC, Shea said the reviewing panel wrongly ignored her claim that she had personally advised Brown of the sale on two occasions in October of 1999. In an interview, Shea said she withdrew from the case because she couldn’t go along with a deal under which Yvonne Brown would have received $2,000 a month in alimony for only five years. Though currently in good health, Yvonne Brown has Huntington’s disease, according to Shea. She, however, couldn’t convince her ex-client of the agreement’s shortcomings because, by that time, Yvonne Brown had turned against her, Shea added. The reviewing panel found that Shea violated ethics rules by selling personal property that was, at least in part, the subject of litigation and by failing to return documents and personal items to Ferro after agreeing to do so under a stipulation that became a court order. Shea said her presentment date has yet to be scheduled.

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