Candidate for secretary of state and current State Auditor Jim Zeigler remains tight-lipped about a fee dispute from his time as an attorney and the surrendering of his law license, just a week before he and Wes Allen meet in a runoff to determine who will represent the GOP in the general election.
Lagniappe previously reported that Zeigler resigned his law license in 2018 over a client complaint. The fee dispute letter, originally obtained by Lagniappe from WPMI, seems to strengthen that reporting. Zeigler did not return a call seeking comment on Monday, June 13.
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 infirm 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 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.
Initially questioned about surrendering his license in 2018, Zeigler said he didn’t need to keep his license current because he didn’t plan to continue practicing law and didn’t want to pay the dues or malpractice insurance.
Several sources said at the time 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.
When asked in 2018, Phillip McCallum, then-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.
Since Lagniappe’s original reporting on his license, Zeigler has become something of a darling in conservative circles, launching a successful battle to stop an Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) plan to charge $6 tolls for a new Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project.
Since Zeigler and many anti-toll activists stopped the plan, ALDOT and local leaders have come back to the table and are in the process of approving a new, scaled-down version of the project that could provide traffic relief to drivers traversing Mobile Bay.
Zeigler finished first in the GOP primary with about 43 percent of the vote. Allen finished second in a four-man race, with about 40 percent. The point difference represents less than 17,000 votes.
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