A woman has sued an Austin lawyer and firm alleging they represented her and her husband’s business ventures from 1999 to 2009, but later breached their fiduciary duty to her by representing her husband in the couple’s 2010 divorce. The defendants deny the allegations and claim the woman was not a client.
“That would be a conflict of interest — in having represented her interest previously, they then act adversely to her in another lawsuit where the property where they had represented her interest is at stake,” says Paul Knisely, a shareholder in Knisely, Prehoditch & Panzer in Austin who represents plaintiff Andrea Crowson.
But Cobb Martinez Woodward partner Carrie Phaneuf, who represents defendants Richard E. “Rick” Gray III and Gray & Becker, says, “The firm never represented Ms. Crowson.”
After discovery, Phaneuf adds, “Ms. Crowson’s allegations will be proved to be without merit.”
Gray did not return a telephone call or email seeking comment.
In her Sept. 26 original petition in Crowson v. Gray & Becker, et al., Crowson alleges she had an attorney-client relationship with the defendants. The petition, filed in Travis County’s 200th District Court, refers to both defendants as “Gray & Becker.”
Gray & Becker “did substantial legal work” for businesses in which the Crowsons had financial interests, including transactional work, legal-entity creation for businesses, real estate matters and more, Crowson alleges. Gray & Becker sometimes was paid from the Crowsons’ joint checking account, the plaintiff alleges.
Crowson alleges she filed for divorce in April 2010, and Gray & Becker represented her husband, Thomas Crowson. Gray & Becker advocated positions “extremely adverse and hostile” to Andrea Crowson, leading to a property division “extraordinarily detrimental and unfavorable” to her, she alleges.
“The Defendants should never have undertaken to represent Mr. Crowson in the divorce proceeding,” Crowson claims. It was “a serious and clear breach of these Defendants’ fiduciary duties to Ms. Crowson, including the duties of loyalty and full disclosure, the duty to not use confidential information to the detriment of a client, and the duty to not put the interests of others before the interests of a client,” she alleges.
Crowson’s causes of action against the defendants include breach of fiduciary duty, professional negligence and, in the alternative, “negligent failure to warn her that they did not represent her.” She seeks actual damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, costs of court, and equitable forfeiture of “any and all fees and expenses . . . Defendants obtained as a result of their legal representation of Plaintiff.”
In their Oct. 18 answer, the defendants allege they “cannot be held civilly liable for damages to a non-client, such as Plaintiff, under any theory of recovery, for actions taken by them in connection with their representation of their client. . . .”
The defendants also allege Crowson’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations and by the doctrines of waiver and estoppel, and they maintain her petition fails to allege the facts necessary to support her causes of action and the remedy of fee forfeiture.