Legal Ethics

Lawyer is censured over $71K legal bill that included $30K in interest

  • Print


The Wyoming Supreme Court has publicly censured a Cheyenne lawyer who charged a client $30,000 in finance charges on an unpaid legal bill of $41,000.

The court adopted a report by the state bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility and censured (PDF) lawyer Bruce Asay on May 11 in connection with the fees charged to a client he represented on employment-related issues. The Legal Profession Blog and the Wyoming State Bar note the censure.

Asay charged monthly interest on unpaid legal bills of 1½ percent per month.

According to the Board of Professional Responsibility, Asay violated ethics rules barring unreasonable fees and requiring clear communication of fees at the beginning of a representation. He also violated trust account rules for withdrawing a portion of $4,000 paid in advance of a lawsuit filing to cover unpaid fees rather than lawsuit costs, the report said.

The client had alleged his company discriminated against him on the basis of age when he was passed over for a promotion, and then fired him in retaliation for filing the age bias claim. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had issued a right-to-sue letter on the retaliation claim.

Asay had represented the client before the Wyoming Department of Employment, in appeals of denied unemployment benefits, and in a contingency fee suit on the retaliation claim. The suit was ultimately tossed because of an arbitration clause in the client’s employment contract. The client decided he didn’t have the money to pay for an arbitrator.

Before the federal suit was filed, the client had unpaid fees of more than $22,000 and finance charges were accruing at the rate of more than $300 per month. The client says the $4,000 check he wrote to Assay in September 2011 was intended to cover the filing of a contingent-fee discrimination case against his former employer; Asay contended it was a payment toward unpaid fees.

The board report cited as mitigating factors Asay’s good character or reputation, the absence of a prior disciplinary record and the absence of a dishonest or selfish motive.

Asay did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.