The 'People's Lawyer' charged with misconduct

A northern California attorney who calls himself the "People's Lawyer" in television ads has been charged with professional misconduct, including numerous instances of charging unconscionable fees and performing legal services incompetently. James M. Rogers [#95990], 41, of Oakland is expected to appear for a status conference at the State Bar Court on Feb. 11. He faces complaints involving seven clients.

Rogers, who also is a Contra Costa County supervisor, is a familiar face on late night and daytime television commercials, soliciting clients for his firm.

In one of the complaints involving charges of an unconscionable fee, Rogers was hired by a client in 1992 to represent her in a personal injury matter.

Unconscionable fees

The bar alleges that Rogers charged and collected 41 percent of the client's settlement, amounting to $5,000. He also collected 41 percent of a medical payment from the client's insurer, in the amount of $769.

The agreement with the client allowed Rogers to collect excessive contingent fees and excessive fees if a lawsuit was filed or the matter went to arbitration.

An agreement with another client set fees of 40-50 percent of the recovery.

In two other cases, the bar charged Rogers with collecting 35 percent of judgments the clients obtained in small claims court.

Bargaining with check

In one of the small claims cases, Rogers received a check from the client's insurance company, with client and himself named as payees. He then refused to deliver the check to the client unless she agreed to waive all claims against him, including malpractice claims.

In another instance, the bar charged Rogers with incompetent performance after he failed to "diligently" prosecute a lawsuit for a client and then dismissed the case without the client's consent.

Fee still charged

The client later hired another lawyer who obtained a favorable judgment, but according to the complaint, Rogers then charged the client an "unconscionable" fee of $606.

Rogers also was charged with two instances of failure to keep clients informed of the status of their cases, two counts of refusing to deliver funds to clients and one count of threatening to file administrative charges against an insurance carrier.

Admitted to the bar in 1980, Rogers has no prior record of discipline.

Responding to the charges, Rogers told the media that most of the complaining clients had small claims cases which required significant investments of time on the part of his firm.

High-volume practice

He maintained that he runs a high volume practice and takes on cases that other lawyers won't touch, thus making the odds greater that there will be a breakdown in client communication and complaints.

He said that charges such as failing to keep a client informed of the status of a case were minor violations of the rules of professional conduct.

Discipline imposed by the bar ranges from a private reproval to disbarment.