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Howard tries to mediate divorce dispute between lawyer and client

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BROOKLYN -- Janette Tull wanted a divorce. A friend recommended an attorney in Brooklyn -- Clover Barrett.

Barrett is an interesting person. Besides her law practice on Atlantic Avenue, the building also houses her art gallery and coffee shop.

Janette gave Barrett a $7,500 retainer. She was also responsible for about $500 in fees. A total of about $8,000. And Janette says Barrett’s rate is $400 an hour.

Then, just 24 days later, Janette reconciled with her husband. No divorce. So she wanted the balance of her retainer back.

“She said she would get back to me on the paperwork because my husband was already served the papers,” Janette told me. “And I never heard from her and I received a bill of statement two and half months later which was very excessive.”

Janette contested the bill. After all, she wondered, how could Clover Barrett have gone through almost $8,000 in 24 days? Barrett eventually offered a small rebate of $1,000. After subtracting some fees it was down to just over $800. She sent Janette paperwork to cement that deal. Janette says she never agreed to those terms and contacted us the next day.

We went to visit Barrett in her office. And we didn’t get a very nice reception. Clover Barrett went and hid behind a door. One of her people asked us to leave.

A few days later, Barrett and I spoke on the phone. She claims she did a lot of telephone counseling for Janette and Janette didn’t realize she was being billed for it. But the bill doesn’t reflect a lot of phone counseling. And Janette claims the date of one supposed phone call came way after she told Barrett her services weren’t needed.

“I’m very, very upset and I feel that Ms. Barrett should give me back a large portion of my money.”

So, what options are there? Janette can try filing a fee grievance in court. And the retainer likely gives her some arbitration rights.

In New York, for fees up to $50,000, an attorney cannot sue unless arbitration is offered.