Judge Paul L. Alpert


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Claimant client sought to recover $1,000 paid to attorney Thomas to represent her in a Civil Court action against her landlord for damage to personal property in her apartment arising from a flood. She argued Thomas rendered no legal services other than appearing on three occasions and seeking adjournments, suing for contract breach after terminating Thomas. Thomas argued he appeared in court to represent claimant, and appeared at her deposition­—claimant denied ever appearing for a deposition with Thomas. The court noted the retainer agreement failed to clearly state the scope of Thomas’ representation. It also found the retainer “troublesome,” including provisions stating the attorney-client relationship automatically ended within 15 minutes after Thomas’ fifth court appearance in the matter. The court held the retainer agreement unconscionable and unenforceable, ruling that an attorney’s unilateral abandonment of a client after the fifth court appearance is unconscionable, and violates the Rules of Professional Conduct requiring counsel to seek leave of court before withdrawal. It concluded while some discovery, and appearance work was performed, the reasonable fee for same was no more than $500, entitling claimant to a $500 refund.