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An Atlanta criminal defense firm claims John B. and Patsy A. Ramsey owe it more than $38,000 in attorney fees for representing their minor son. The firm, Maloy & Jenkins, has sued to collect that tab out of 15-year-old Burke H. Ramsey’s settlement of a libel case against a tabloid. But the firm has drawn fire from the Ramseys for what they call a “wrongful collection practice against the estate of a child of tender years.” The couple contends that any debt they might owe shouldn’t come out of their son’s money. They managed to block the collection efforts in Fulton County, Ga., Probate Court earlier this year, but now the dispute is in Fulton Superior Court. Their attorney, L. Lin Wood Jr., said the couple already have paid “tens of thousands” of dollars on their bill and have always acknowledged responsibility for any balance owed to Maloy & Jenkins principal James K. Jenkins. The amount owed is in dispute, according to Wood. “The issue has always been one of asking Jim Jenkins to document what was owed,” Wood said, adding that Jenkins’ bills were incomplete and confusing. “The Ramseys have never tried to hide from the debt. Period.” He called Jenkins’ tactic a “wrongful collection attempt to charge Burke’s estate for money owed by the parents” and added that the Ramseys intend to sue Jenkins for frivolous litigation. Jenkins declined comment, deferring to his attorney Ann J. Herrera. Through a spokeswoman, Herrera also declined comment on the litigation. Maloy & Jenkins claims the Ramseys owe $38,103.74, plus interest, for Jenkins’ representation of Burke in connection with the investigation into the December 1996 murder of his sister, JonBen�t Ramsey. John and Patsy Ramsey signed a contract in 1998 to hire Jenkins at $225 an hour, plus expenses and costs. Jenkins, according to court filings, claims his representation included “extensive interviews by the Boulder [Colo.] District Attorney’s office and testimony before a grand jury investigating the murder of the minor’s sister” and resulted in Burke “being publicly vindicated by the District Attorney in regard to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.” Jenkins’ representation, the suit adds, “directly contributed to and opened the door for at least one tort action” filed in federal court in Atlanta that subsequently was settled. The Ramseys settled libel suits on confidential terms against The Star and The Globe, tabloids that falsely named the boy as a suspect in JonBen�t’s murder. A defamation suit against Court TV is pending. Settlement funds, the collections suit says, were used to set up a guardianship for Burke in Fulton Probate Court last year, with Patsy Ramsey named as guardian of her son’s property. Maloy & Jenkins, represented by Herrera and Dana C. Bryan, both of Decatur, Ga.’s Russell & Herrera, claim the Ramseys promised to pay their legal bill out of the guardianship funds, a claim the Ramseys deny. Wood said John Ramsey may have made an off-the-cuff remark that perhaps Jenkins’ bill could be paid after Burke’s civil cases had been settled. But his client didn’t know that the law prohibits paying the bill out of the guardianship, he said. DISPUTED ROLE IN INVESTIGATION Wood, who has represented the Ramseys since 1999 in various libel actions, disputed Jenkins’ characterization of his role in the murder investigation. Jenkins, he said, assisted during police interviews and grand jury testimony. But he was never hired to defend Burke against “potential criminal charges,” Wood said, since Burke was never a suspect. Jenkins can’t claim credit for prompting Colorado prosecutors to issue a statement that Burke was not a suspect, Wood said, adding that prosecutors did so only because they were outraged by media reports falsely calling the boy a suspect. “Burke was never a suspect and didn’t need Jim Jenkins to be quote-unquote vindicated,” Wood said. Nor did Jenkins have anything to do with the successful civil litigation against the media over its treatment of Burke, he added. Wood said Jenkins was aware that the Ramseys had accumulated large debts to various lawyers and were having financial difficulties, but persisted in demands for his payment. At one point, Jenkins asked the couple to take out a third mortgage on their home to pay his bill, Wood said. Wood said the Ramseys refused to do so, but have since sold their Northwest Atlanta home as part of an effort to reduce their expenses. John Ramsey, the founder of Access Graphics, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, is unemployed, according to Wood. TOSSED FROM PROBATE COURT Maloy & Jenkins first pursued its fees in probate court, filing a petition to encroach on the guardianship last fall. The Ramseys moved to dismiss the petition. They argued that since they signed the contract, the lawyers must attempt to collect the debt from them, not their son. “[T]his is a matter that Petitioner should resolve with John and Patsy Ramsey, in their individual capacities,” they argue in a motion to dismiss. They challenged the jurisdiction of the probate court to hear the dispute, and Judge Floyd E. Propst III, a retired judge brought in to handle the case, agreed. Propst, in a March 28, 2002, order, found that petitions to encroach are typically filed by the guardian when the guardian and a creditor agree that the estate owes a debt. But probate courts don’t hear disputes between guardians and creditors, Propst wrote. Lawyers hired by a guardian after the establishment of the guardianship can petition for fees, Propst found. But, he added, Jenkins’ representation was prior to the creation of the guardianship and was not related to creating the guardianship or to the tort claim that funded the guardianship. He granted the motion to dismiss. In re Estate of Burke Hamilton Ramsey, Minor, No. 182868 (Fult. Probate Ct. March 29, 2002). Maloy & Jenkins also filed a motion to remove Patsy Ramsey as guardian of Burke’s property and Wood as lawyer for the guardian, alleging a conflict of interest created by Ramsey’s refusal to pay the bill out of her son’s estate. That motion, which Wood called “unconscionable,” is pending in probate court. The Fulton Superior Court suit was filed two months after Propst’s ruling. It named John and Patsy Ramsey individually and Patsy Ramsey as guardian of Burke’s property. Maloy & Jenkins v. Ramsey, No. 2002CV53937 (Fult. Super. May 31, 2002). The complaint says Judge Propst tossed the petition because he had no jurisdiction to hear it and that ruling doesn’t bar the firm from attempting to collect its fees from the estate in a different venue. It also says John Ramsey owes another $8,399 for a contract he signed for representation of his ex-wife and two grown children in connection with the murder investigation. Wood has responded with a motion asking that Patsy Ramsey, in her capacity as guardian, be dismissed from the case. The motion argues that Judge Propst settled the issue of attaching the guardianship funds and Maloy & Jenkins are “seeking a second bite at the apple on the issue of whether Burke’s estate is indebted to Plaintiff for legal services.” It also says that the firm can’t recover from Burke’s estate because a minor can’t be held liable for his parents’ debts. The litigation is “an unfortunate mess, but it is a mess that Jim Jenkins has created,” Wood said. “It could’ve been handled quietly.” And more litigation eventually will have to be filed, he said. As her son’s guardian, Ramsey has a responsibility to help Burke’s estate recover its expenses for having to defend against Maloy & Jenkins, he said. “Jim Jenkins has bought himself a lawsuit.”

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