According to a letter from the Mobile Bar Association, State Auditor Jim Zeigler was ordered to pay back $10,000 to a client last year as part of a fee dispute resolution, further buttressing Lagniappe’s reporting that Zeigler resigned his law license earlier this year as a result of discipline following a client complaint.
In a letter from Edward G. Hawkins, chair of the Fee Dispute/Firm Dissolution Committee, dated March 22, 2017, Zeigler was told the committee had made the unanimous decision to have him pay back all but $2,000 of a $12,000 retainer paid by one of his elder care clients. Zeigler’s law practice specialized in elderly or infirmed clients, and it was common for him to be paid a lump amount for the handling of a client’s legal needs over the course of their final years.
At issue was a dispute with a client from 2013 over services rendered by Zeigler and his firm. The letter, originally obtained by WPMI, points out Zeigler did not complete work he charged for and also charged for work that didn’t require a lawyer.
Some of the work in question included an application for Medicaid home care, an application for “veterans aid,” as well as admission into a veterans home and the “Medicaid nursing home eligibility” process.
Additionally, the letter states the client’s assets “did not have to be restructured.” The letter also states the work of “complete estate planning,” including “preparing and revising wills, powers of attorney, living wills,” and other services “did not occur.” The client’s name was redacted from the letter.
“The panel would emphasize that it is confident that the $12,000 fee would have been entirely reasonable if Mr. Zeigler had provided the various services contemplated for the remainder of lifetimes, and it is only in hindsight, and in part because Mr. Zeigler has gone into public service precluding those legal services that the panel reaches its decision about the amount due to be refunded,” the letter reads.
Zeigler has not yet returned multiple calls and emails seeking comment for this story.
Zeigler, who is a Republican running for re-election as state auditor, surrendered his law license earlier this year. He later told Lagniappe and other media outlets he had no desire to retain the license and surrendered it voluntarily, since he wasn’t going to run for attorney general. He said he was retiring from law practice. An order from the Alabama Supreme Court states that Zeigler “filed in writing his voluntary relinquishment and surrender” of the license. It was accepted and ordered in April.
Several sources said it was highly unusual for a retiring attorney to surrender a license when one could simply go inactive. Multiple sources close to the matter at both the state and local bars have told Lagniappe the surrender was forced and the result of a complaint filed with the Mobile Bar Association related to a case he was handling personally.
Last month, Phillip McCallum, executive director of the Alabama Bar Association, was unable to offer much information regarding Zeigler’s surrender of his license due to confidentiality requirements, but he did confirm that Zeigler is not eligible to have his license reinstated for five years. That is the same length of time a disbarred attorney must wait before being able to apply for readmission to the bar.
Zeigler told WPMI the fee dispute has nothing to do with his license surrender. He will face Democrat Miranda Joseph in November.