Houston probate lawyer Robert “Keith” Morris II seeks a declaratory judgment to void a promissory note related to his ex-wife’s employment agreement at his firm. He alleges the $6 million note is “unconscionable” and obtained when his former wife, Erin E. Jones, was threatening him.
“There were procedural abuses by Erin in connection with the drafting and execution of the note, such as an unfair bargaining position between the parties at the time the note was signed and threats by Erin of personal and professional embarrassment,” Morris alleges in a petition filed Sept. 22 in state district court in Harris County.
“In short, the inequity of the note terms is so extreme as to shock the conscience,” Morris, a co-founder of Ostrom Morris, alleges in the petition.
In response to the allegations, Jones, an attorney at Ostrom who does bankruptcy and civil litigation, said “The allegations are false and I intend to defend it vigorously.”
Jones referred further comment to her attorney, John Zavitsanos, a partner at Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing of Houston. Zavitsanos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Morris alleges in the petition that he and Jones married in 2002 and separated in early 2015. Jones filed for divorce in November 2016, and it was finalized on Feb. 10, 2017.
But he alleges that before the divorce was finalized, Jones made financial demands on him. He says that she sought an interest in his future earnings and other payments, demanding that he pay her $400,000 annually, as well as additional money for retirement and child support.
He alleges when he refused those “demands,” Jones threatened him. “Erin’s threats included making false allegations that Keith engaged in improper ex parte communications, and claims that she would cause Keith to be subject to various criminal, civil and even disciplinary proceedings, as she intended to ‘burn his house down,’” Morris alleges in the petition, adding that while she was making threats and demands, she continued to represent him in various legal matters.
Morris alleges in Morris v. Jones that “after months of continued threats and demands,” Jones demanded an employment agreement that would pay her $20,000 per month and required her to bill an average of 75 hours a month at $400 per hour. Morris alleges the agreement, which Jones signed a few days before the divorce was final, calls for her to work at least 900 hours for the firm on law firm cases and the hours could either be billable or nonbillable administrative or marketing work.
He alleges that even though the firm has been paying her $20,000 a month, she has only billed an average of 10.65 hours a month, which equals less than 15 percent of her monthly billing requirement.
He also alleges that at the same time Jones signed the employment agreement, she “induced” him to execute the $6 million promissory note that will go into default if the firm terminates Jones with or without cause.
“Erin has also made it clear that she does not intend to comply with her obligations under the agreement, and has taunted Keith to have the law firm discharge her, as she believes that she can still enforce the egregious note,” Morris alleges in the petition.
Morris referred comment to his attorney, Sanford Dow, a member at Dow Golub Remels & Gilbreath of Houston.
Dow said the note requires payment to Jones, even if she is discharged for cause.
“It’s Mr. Morris’ position that type of provision is unconscionable,” Dow said.