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Legally Soaked

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Dear Sir or Madam:

I am also an unhappy client of Richard Rinella ["Legally Screwed" by Rob Warden and James Tuohy, October 1, 1993]. My complaint involves money, not sex, but the pattern of abused trust is similar to that alleged in your article. Rinella imposed a charge of $10,000 for very little work for a scant five-month representation and refused to give me any explanation. He never told me I had a right to a hearing on the reasonableness of the fee, but he said he would not record my divorce decree until I paid the amount he demanded, so in fear and ignorance of my rights I paid. Even after I paid all he demanded, he refused to account for his time, services and rates, refused to arbitrate the amount, and forced me to go to court for relief. In 1986, the Illinois Appellate Court found that Mr. Rinella rebuffed all of my efforts to obtain the itemization of time and services to which I was always entitled, and ordered him to submit his fee amount to a trial on its reasonableness. In re Marriage of Pitulla, 141 Ill.App.3d 956.

In 1988, the trial court ruled that Mr. Rinella misrepresented his hourly rates and charged an unreasonable fee. He was ordered to refund about two-thirds of the excessive fee collected in 1981. In 1990, the Illinois Appellate court found that Mr. Rinella filed a false fee petition and ordered him to pay me interest on my money wrongfully held by him for seven years. In re Marriage of Pitulla, 202 Ill.App.3d 103.

In 1989, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Mr. Rinella obtained an "unconscionable advantage" over another client when he wrote two orders totaling $50,000 against her while representing her without submitting any evidence. A trial was then held, his original fee was found unreasonable, and he had to refund several thousands of dollars in that case also. In re Marriage of Pagano, 181 Ill.App.3d 547. Other clients have filed similar charges.

On December 1, 1993, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Mr. Rinella must pay me $19,492 in sanctions as the cost of disproving his false fee. In re Marriage of Pitulla, No. 91-3623. No amount of money can compensate for his repeated violation of my rights, but it is important for clients to step forward to put these facts on the record so that others are protected. I was an unsuspecting layperson when I walked into Mr. Rinella's office in 1981. If I knew the way he operated, I would never have retained him or his firm. The Reader article thoroughly documents the abuses of the system that can happen to divorce clients at this most vulnerable time of their lives.

Joanne Pitulla

Chicago Ridge

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