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June 11, 2013

Philly Law Firm's Ex-Partner Seeks Access To Client Files

The former name partner of a Philadelphia workers' compensation law firm on Tuesday called the firm's opposition to his request for electronic files of his old clients disingenuous, emphasizing that his lack of access to the files is hurting his ability to provide representation.

Halmon Banks — who recently announced that he had started his own firm, Banks Law — swiftly responded to a Monday filing by his old firm, recently redubbed Martin LLC, arguing that he had no right to files from its proprietary database.

He emphasized that his interest in the files is not affected by an earlier decision by a Pennsylvania state judge determining that his dispute with his former partners over allocation of cases and fees while at the firm previously known as Martin Banks LLC belongs in arbitration. 

“The fact that this court found, over plaintiff's objection, that the prior dispute is governed by an arbitration provision within the firm's operating agreement has no bearing on the issue presently before the court,” he said in a filing.

“The instant dispute concerns how to enforce the hundreds of requests made by former Martin LLC clients to transfer their files to Banks as their chosen counsel, and whether the defendants' legal and ethical obligations to honor those requests extend to the documents and information that they maintain exclusively in electronic and not paper form and without which Banks cannot adequately represent his clients' interests,” he added.

Banks, who joined his old firm in 1987, sued five Martin partners in March.  He alleges that historically, cases that came to the firm through general advertising rather than a particular attorney were divided evenly between partners. In addition to these files, cases credited to George Martin also were evenly distributed.

According to Banks, the attorneys' fees generated from a combination of the firm files and the Martin cases were sufficient for partners to pay their obligatory share of the firms' expenses.

But Banks says that since 2009, the number of firm and Martin cases assigned to him plummeted. In response, he stopped contributing fees from his own cases toward firm expenses.

Banks alleges that the remaining partners then voted that any partner who was not current with his firm expenses would not receive any income from firm files, thus cutting him off from future assignments.

Days after Banks' suit, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer rejected Banks' request for a preliminary injunction to stop the firm from removing his name, and the firm promptly went ahead and changed the name.

That order is currently on appeal to the state's Supreme Court.

Judge Glazer then concluded in May that under the original partnership agreement, Banks' suit against the partners belongs in arbitration.

Then, earlier this month, Banks, who employs two associate attorneys at his new firm, asked for a special injunction compelling his old firm to transfer to him the paper and electronic files for approximately 250 of his clients.

In Monday's response, the firm shot back that the electronic files were not essential to Banks, emphasizing that it had already provided him with all he needed on paper records along with electronic material on disks.

“Plaintiff has not, and cannot demonstrate that denial of access to the firm's proprietary database will have any material effect on his ability to continue to represent his clients or his ability to continue to garner the very high income levels he has enjoyed over the past years,” the firm said.

Banks countered Tuesday, arguing that additional crucial material was only available in the firm's Needles database.

But Alan Epstein, an attorney for Martin, responded that the firm has already given Banks all the information he had initially sought.

“There's nothing more that we can give them without providing them with what are clearly proprietary firm programs that the firm has spent a lot of money perfecting over the years,” he told Law360 on Tuesday.

Judge Glazer has scheduled a status conference in the dispute for Thursday.

Banks did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Banks is represented by Howard Klein and Andrew Gallinaro of Conrad O'Brien PC.

Martin is represented by Alan Epstein of Spector Gadon & Rosen PC.

The case is Banks v. Martin et al., case number 130203351, in the Court of Common Pleas of the State of Pennsylvania, County of Philadelphia.

--Additional reporting by Ama Sarfo. Editing by Andrew Park.


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