The day before Ada Ferrer resigned from Houston’s Ferrer, Tu & Payne to join a competitor, she “emptied” the firm’s bank account and started soliciting clients for her new firm, allege Ferrer Tu and two partners in a lawsuit filed on Jan. 10.
But Ferrer’s lawyer said Ferrer was “authorized to obtain funds” from the firm and did not improperly solicit clients.
Ferrer Tu and partners Warrenson Payne and Nancy Chong (formerly Nancy Tu) allege in their petition that Ferrer, Houston lawyer Robert North and his firm, North Law, conspired to breach Ferrer’s fiduciary duty to them to deprive them of the benefit of their clients.
“North, North Law, and Ferrer intentionally agreed on this course of action to benefit themselves to the detriment of Plaintiffs,” the plaintiffs allege in Warrenson Payne v. Ada Ferrer, which is filed in the 189th District Court in Harris County.
They seek unspecified actual and punitive damages, disgorgement of all money and property “misappropriated” by the defendants, attorney fees, costs and interest. They also want a court-supervised windup of Ferrer Tu.
Payne, who said he and Tu now practice at Tu, Payne & Associates, said they are working on an estimate of damages. In their petition, the plaintiffs seek monetary relief of less than $100,000.
Ferrer, reached at North Law, referred questions to her attorney, Steve Kirklin, a partner in Kirklin & Soh of Houston. On her LinkedIn page, Ferrer lists her employment as of counsel at North Law.
Kirklin, who said he has not read the petition, said Ferrer disputes the plaintiffs’ characterization of events in late 2013.
North did not return a telephone message left at North Law.
Ferrer Tu, which represented property owners’ associations, alleges that the firm, formed in November 2010 as Tu & Ferrer, became Ferrer, Tu & Payne on Aug. 1, 2011, after Payne joined the firm.
Although Ferrer Tu “operated profitably” for a year, the plaintiffs allege, Ferrer began “causing friction.” The plaintiffs allege she “was highly derogatory” to employees, which drove several to resign, and the firm was forced to fire several “to preserve accord.” Also, the plaintiffs allege, Ferrer damaged relationships with clients because of a “caustic attitude” and the firm wrote off Ferrer’s time “to preserve client accord.”
Further, Ferrer “did not perform the amount of work required to be a productive member” and instead she “took off at any time she wished.”
The plaintiffs allege that on Nov. 21, 2013, Ferrer called in sick and that day “emptied FTP’s bank account paying herself what she considered she was owed.” The next day, the plaintiffs allege, Ferrer resigned, and it wasn’t until that day that Payne and Tu learned Ferrer “had drained the bank account.”
The plaintiffs also allege that Ferrer paid off the firm’s credit card and closed the account without prior notice, which eliminated $10,000 of the firm’s $18,000 credit line.
On or before Nov. 23, Ferrer began contacting Ferrer Tu clients to solicit business for North Law, the plaintiffs allege.
“All or some of the written solicitations for business from Ferrer included a form in which the Ferrer, Tu & Payne, PLLC clients could remain as clients [of] Ferrer, Tu & Payne, PLLC, follow Ferrer to her new employment with Robert North at North Law, P.C., or select neither law firm as their counsel of choice,” the plaintiffs allege in the petition, noting that Ferrer never received authorization from them to send the written solicitations.
The plaintiffs allege that, after Ferrer left Ferrer Tu, she “entered the FTP Quickbook’s account remotely and altered or deleted time entries.”
“The direct solicitation of FTP’s clients was too much to bear,” the plaintiffs allege in the petition, adding that they called a meeting of the members for Dec. 19, 2013.
At that meeting, the members present voted to remove Ferrer as the managing member of the firm and also “determined that a Termination Event had occurred requiring the wind up of Ferrer, Tu & Payne.” The plaintiffs allege that because of “tensions,” they ask a judge to monitor the windup.
The plaintiffs bring breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with existing contract and breach of contract causes of action against Ferrer. They bring tortious interference with existing contract, conspiracy to tortiously interfere with existing contract, and conspiracy to breach fiduciary duty causes of action against North and his firm.