A recent Law360 story by Jeannie O’Sullivan, “Sills Cummis Accused of Overbilling in Rock Musician Suit,” reports that the former manager for Nile Rodgers has accused Sills Cummis & Gross PC of overbilling him in connection with contract claims against the musician and then abandoning the case, according to an amended complaint filed in New Jersey state court. In a filing, Peter Herman said Sills Cummis and firm member Joseph B. Fiorenzo failed to honor negotiated bill corrections, charged "patently unreasonable fees" for unnecessary outside work and then withdrew from the matter, leaving him to fend for himself in court.
The firm has since demanded that the $315,000 settlement in the underlying matter be held in escrow to settle its claim against Herman for fees, according to the complaint, filed in Essex County Superior Court. "As of the date of this complaint, Herman has received nothing of the settlement proceeds," the complaint said. Herman hired Sills Cummis under a $20,000 retainer agreement that set forth hourly fees for the lawyers assigned to the case, according to the complaint. Herman claimed he informed the firm that he only had $100,000 for legal fees.
The firm charged Herman "in excess of" $618,000 in connection with the civil matter and sought to collect on the whole amount, despite an agreement in which the parties had negotiated reductions, the complaint said. The rates charged "far exceeded rates for similarly situated New Jersey based law firms," the complaint said. Herman alleged that Fiorenzo informed him that the firm would no longer work on his file and would move to withdraw, forcing Herman "to negotiate directly with Nile Rodgers and accept a settlement far less than what was reasonable." That settlement is now tied up in escrow, the complaint said.
The seven-count complaint says that the firm violated professional conduct rules requiring attorneys "to charge fair and reasonable fees and disbursements," and that the retainer agreement, which includes an arbitration clause, is "null, void and of no force and effect." The fact that the settlement is escrowed constitutes a breach of the firm's agreement with Herman, and the firm's failure to cap its fees amounts to converting Herman's assets for its own benefit, the complaint says.
Herman also claimed that Fiorenzo made false statements "regarding his extensive experience and personal involvement" with the matter. The bills showed Fiorenzo "spent little time on the matter," the complaint said. The complaint goes on to say that a conflict of interest arose when the defendants demanded Herman pay the fees or face a motion to withdraw. Their service to Herman would be "materially affected by defendants' interest in their fee claim," the complaint said. Herman wants compensatory and punitive damages, release of the escrow funds, and attorney fees and other costs.