Houston intellectual property lawyer J. Mike Amerson has sued his former firm, now known as Williams Morgan, alleging that it failed to pay him more than $550,000 in income he earned in 2013 before leaving the firm last November.
Amerson also alleges that the firm has improperly continued to use his name “for the value associated with it” on the firm’s website, in connection with attorneys’ U.S. Patent Office registrations and in other listings, including on the State Bar of Texas website.
Danny Williams and Terry Morgan, founding shareholders in Williams Morgan, each did not return a telephone message left at their office.
Amerson, now of the four-lawyer Amerson Law Firm in Houston, seeks more than $1 million in economic and other damages from the defendant in the petition he filed on April 10 in the 269th District Court in Houston.
In a telephone interview, Amerson said he is “disappointed” that he had to file a lawsuit against his former firm.
“I still hope we can work it out. It’s come to the point where we have a strong disagreement about what should and shouldn’t happen,” Amerson said. “I’ve worked with those guys for 15 years, elbow-to-elbow, and it’s sad.”
Amerson’s attorney, Andrea Johnson, a partner in Burleson in Houston, said, “The guy worked his tail off. He is the lawyer’s lawyer. He worked very hard, put in the time. They billed the clients, they collected the money, and he hasn’t been paid. That’s not complicated.”
In J. Mike Amerson v. Williams Morgan, Amerson alleges that he was a founding shareholder of Williams, Morgan & Amerson in 1998, and his ownership share began as 33.3 percent and fluctuated a bit before settling at 31.5 percent in 2010.
He alleges in the petition that he “worked very hard and made a lot of money for WMA” over 15 years.
“In return, WMA provided Amerson a certain compensation structure that included paying him for work he himself performed, paying a portion for collected sums attributable to others’ work and giving him a portion of WMA’s profits and its take from contingent-fee litigation,” he alleges.
On Oct. 31, 2013, Amerson alleges, he announced that he would leave the firm, and he departed on Nov. 30, 2013, to start a patent transactional firm. He alleges that he continued to provide legal services on behalf of WMA during November 2013 and expected to receive “compensation that had normally been paid to him” on a pro rata basis.
Amerson alleges that his yearly compensation over his 15 years at WMA consisted of 100 percent of revenue from his personal billings, 25–33.3 percent of firm profits and 25–33.3 percent of contingency fees.
Amerson alleges that at no time prior to his departure did anyone from the firm “ever suggest or mention” that he would not receive his compensation.
“It was only after defendant did its year-end financial calculations that defendant first notified Amerson by an email dated Dec. 28, 2013, that it would not pay Amerson any share of the profits earned by the firm during the calendar year 2013,” Amerson alleges in the petition.
He alleges that the firm notified him on April 4 that it would not pay him for his personal collections, an amount he estimates at $220,000. Also, Amerson alleges, the firm owes him more than $350,000 for his pro rata share of 2013 yearly profits and an undetermined amount related to contingency fee litigation that has not yet been awarded and collected.
Amerson alleges that the firm claims that he needs to sign a “release” to receive the compensation from his personal billings, and he alleges that the firm additionally has also paid him only a third of the $75,600 value of his stock in the firm. He alleges that the firm has paid other departing shareholders in full for the value of their stock.
Amerson alleges that since his departure, the firm has marketed itself as Williams Morgan, but the firm has “not appropriately, expeditiously and correctly removed Amerson’s name from the defendant’s domain name, from its source Web pages, from defendant’s state bar filings and from other official state filings.
“It is incumbent upon defendant—not plaintiff—to identify and promptly correct all situations where defendant and/or its current employees, still use the ‘Williams, Morgan & Amerson’ name,” he alleges in the petition, adding that the firm “seeks to gain market advantage” by using his name.
He also seeks access to the firm’s financial records.
Amerson brings these causes of action against the defendant: breach of contract, quantum meruit, promissory estoppel, conversion, theft of services under the Texas Theft Liability Act, common law fraud, fraud by misrepresentation/statutory fraud, misappropriation of the Amerson name and civil and criminal violations of the Texas Payday Law. He also seeks an injunction that would prevent Williams Morgan from being associated with Williams, Morgan & Amerson, and from using the wmalaw.com domain name.