HAZARD—A lawsuit filed by the Perry County Commonwealth’s Attorney last month, which resulted in the resignation of the county’s Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, was apparently the product of a “dispute over legal fees.”
According to documents obtained from the Perry Circuit Clerk’s Office, Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen filed suit on Oct. 18 against Shasta Mullins, individually and as an agent for the Mullins Law Firm. Former Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Mullins, of the Mullins Law Firm, resigned the same day.
Hansen has declined to comment on the suit, while Mullins also declined to comment when reached on Tuesday.
According to the suit, Hansen was retained in a wrongful death suit in May 2012 in which a retainer agreement was signed allowing a 33 percent fee for Hansen if there was a settlement and to reimburse him any costs and fees.
“The retainer fee also allowed the undersigned (Hansen) to hire or retain additional counsel without additional fees being paid aside from the original terms,” the suit reads.
After taking the case, Hansen learned in October 2012 that “additional parties” from another wrongful death case were coming forward and would eventually consolidate with the original case. According to the court file, Hansen’s “services rendered took place between May 2012 and December 2012” and “did involve several additional hours in order to place the client in a situation to obtain damages from all necessary parties on behalf of her cause.”
In November, Hansen won the 2012 general election for the office of Perry County Commonwealth’s Attorney and could therefore no longer “engage in the private practice of law” pursuant to Kentucky state statutes. Hansen withdrew from the case and retained Shasta Mullins and the Mullins Law Firm to handle this case along with many of his other cases.
“Upon text and phone call from Ms. Mullins in September 2013, the undersigned was advised the case was settled in mediation,” the documents read. “The defendant (Mullins), unilaterally and without consultation with the undersigned (Hansen), tendered an amount on October 9, 2013, to which the undersigned does not agree.”
Negotiations have been attempted, according to court records, though as of Tuesday no agreement had been reached to pay more to Hansen than has already been paid. Copies of two checks from the Mullins Law Firm to Hansen were included in the file, one for $5,000 and one for $3,803.50. Both checks have written in the memo that they are payments in relation to the wrongful death case in question.
Hansen claims in the suit that this payment does not meet the 33.3 percent payment agreed upon when he was originally retained in 2012 based on the amount paid in mediation, and no “fee sharing” agreement was ever made between Mullins and him.
Hansen has asked the court to keep Mullins from distributing any other fees from the case and to have any fees rendered from the case deposited immediately with the Perry County Circuit Clerk’s office. A motion for a protective order was filed with the suit.
Judge William Engle filed an order certifying a need for a special judge to be assigned to the case on Oct. 21, and the case has been sent to the Chief Regional Judge John D. Caudill.
On Oct. 28, Tom Eckert was sworn in as the new assistant commonwealth’s attorney.