As I last shared, I had the good fortune to wind up seated next to a retired lawyer who had specialized in international law. A lovely person from what I could tell, Michael happened to live in New York and had once visited Malta. I had never met anyone else who had visited that strange, little country as I had. Thus began our bond.
When I returned home, I eagerly – and I mean, couldn’t open my email fast enough – reviewed my correspondence with my attorneys in Milan. I found emails about our initial discussions of payment, my attempts to check in on the cost of my retaining them, and, the awful note from Vale that requested I pay 5000 Euro more. I sent each one sequentially to Michael with a brief explanation, and together, we pieced together our defense.
After receiving all 10 emails in my possession, he wrote back to me a very simple but apt sentence: “I smell an Italian scam.” Relief washed over me. During my four-hour flight with him, I knew enough that he would spare me nothing if he felt I actually owed my attorneys what they were requesting. And with my permission, he composed and sent the following note to the firm in Milan:
“Da: Michael Hxxxx
Inviato: giovedì 13 gennaio 2011 18:49
A: Valentino Fxxxx
Oggetto: Keri Potts
I am an attorney in New York, and have been engaged by Ms. Potts regarding the matter that your firm was engaged to handle on her behalf. I have reviewed all of the correspondence between you and her and believe the matter can easily be summarized, as follows:
In December 2008, Ms. Potts offered to pay a fee of US$5,000. Your firm accepted her offer, and was to assist her in the prosecution of her assailant, and recover all of her fees related to the prosecution.
In May 2010, the defendant was ordered to pay Ms. Potts €4,815.72 (which is approximately US$5,754) . We understand that that amount has been paid to your firm on behalf of Ms. Potts but your firm has failed to remit it to Ms. Potts.
In November 2010, for the first time, and without any prior notice, your firm decided to raise its fee to €10,000 (US$13,340), almost triple the agreed amount. I must remind you that at no time was Ms. Potts advised of the possibility that the original fee arrangement would be changed.
If Ms. Potts were to accept your outrageous proposal, she would be out-of-pocket more than US$7,586, which is contrary to your firm’s agreement, not feasible given Ms. Potts’s financial situation, and contrary to the fact that Ms. Potts was to be made whole by the defendant for her costs.
Based upon the facts, and your firm’s understanding with Ms. Potts, your firm should be required to remit to her approximately US$754 (the amount received by your firm from the defendant, less Ms. Potts’s agreed fee). In order to resolve the differences between your firm and Ms. Potts, she has authorized me to propose a resolution whereby your firm would retain what it has received, following which neither party would have a claim against the other. If this is not acceptable, I would propose to Ms. Potts that we engage a local Rome firm to represent her interests. I trust this would not be required.
Yes, friends, Michael not only told them I wasn’t paying, he told them they owed ME money. The conversion rate on the dollar to the Euro and the fact my agreement with the firm was in dollars was actually in my favor here. And without Michael, I would not have even noticed it. In fact, had Vale (actually, Vale’s boss) not asked for additional money from me, I wouldn’t have even cared. But now, I cared. And I had an attorney who cared. And he was a tough ass New York lawyer. I recall feeling devilishly satisfied seeing me cc’d on Michael’s email to Vale. Also, I was a bit nervous. Was I about to get into a nasty fight with Vale – a guy I considered my friend during the past 1.5 years after all we had been through and talked about – or was this going to die quickly? Nothing about my case had ever been easy.