Trials & Litigation

Acquitted Navy SEAL says ex-lawyers delayed case, maximizing fundraising potential

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A Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murdering a prisoner alleges in a lawsuit that one of his former lawyers promised that his legal fees would be covered by a nonprofit that used his name for fundraising, then demanded up to $1 million in unpaid legal fees.

The former Navy SEAL, Edward Gallagher, filed the federal suit Sept. 13 in federal court in Texas, report Law360 and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Gallagher fired the lawyer, Colby Vokey of Dallas, before the July war-crimes trial in which Gallagher was acquitted of murdering a wounded Islamic State prisoner. A second lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse of San Diego, left the legal team soon after Gallagher hired new lawyers.

Gallagher sued both Vokey and Stackhouse, along with their law practices, and the nonprofit he thought would be paying his legal bills, United American Patriots.

Gallagher claims that Vokey and Stackhouse engaged in delay tactics that ran up legal bills and gave United American Patriots more time to raise money. Gallagher, meanwhile, had to “languish in pretrial confinement for several months,” the suit says.

The suit alleges that United American Patriots “targets service members in need to use for their advertising campaigns, raising millions of dollars to line their pockets while providing very little to the actual legal representation.”

“Although initially registered and operated as a nonprofit,” the lawsuit says, “UAP has been illegally repurposed as a cash generating engine” to fund law practices of Vokey and another lawyer who was not named as a lawsuit defendant, both of whom were on the group’s board.

The suit says United American Patriots’ most recent IRS filing, in 2017, indicates that only 14% of the total funds raised by UAP were used to support its mission.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that Gallagher owes no fees to either Vokey or Stackhouse. The suit also seeks damages for alleged breach of fiduciary duty by Vokey, and damages for alleged legal malpractice by Vokey and Stackhouse.

The malpractice claim is based on alleged delay tactics and a claimed failure to pursue an aggressive defense strategy.

After Gallagher fired Vokey, the lawyer presented Gallagher “with a stack of outrageously inflated invoices,” the suit alleges. The suit also says Stackhouse submitted legal bills before he quit that sought compensation “for many hours of meetings and motions drafting with little or nothing to show for it.”

Before the criminal trial had concluded, Vokey began serving arbitration demands on Gallagher, the suit says. In August, Vokey sued Gallagher in Texas state court. The actions seek up to $1 million in legal fees, according to Gallagher.

Gallagher’s suit alleges that Vokey relied on a “purported engagement letter” of “dubious authenticity” that Gallagher doesn’t recall signing. There were no visitors recorded in a logbook where Gallagher was being held on the day the contract was said to be signed, the suit says.

Citing information and belief, the suit says UAP has paid Vokey “somewhere between $80,000 and $250,000.”

A UAP blog post, written by Bob Weimann, the board chairman, says the group was not a party to the engagement letter and not a party to any legal action against Gallagher.

The blog post said UAP had paid $77,000 toward Gallagher’s legal defense when the relationship ended between Gallagher and UAP, and the money covered all the legal bills in the group’s possession.

Weimann’s blog post also defended Vokey. “We have never experienced anything that was considered unethical or illegal concerning Mr. Vokey’s professional conduct,” the post said. “Our experience is that Mr. Vokey’s integrity is exceptional as is his representation of his clients. Frankly, Mr. Vokey’s record is one of the best we have observed.”

Stackhouse told the San Diego Union-Tribune and Law360 that it was “disappointing it’s come to this, but I’m confident the court will sort it out in the most appropriate manner.”

See also: “Military prosecutor accused of tracking defense lawyers’ emails is tossed from case”

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