Small Claims: Wittich sues former client for $93.99 of unpaid bills

Art Wittich, sick and tired of serving the public.

Art Wittich, the Montana Senate Majority Leader and Tea Party stalwart, has been in court lately to try to get what he believes is rightfully his.

Wittich, a lawyer, had once provided legal services to a Bozeman couple. There was an outstanding balance of $93.99 that the couple had not paid Wittich.  Wittich was not going to abandon the matter, and not only collected the debt but got himself a tidy reward, an additional several thousand dollars.

It appears, as best I can tell from a not-very-clearly-drafted court opinion (the link to the decision is below), that Wittich quietly got a default legal judgment against the couple, for the $93.99, even as his office was in talks with the couple over possibly arriving at a settlement over this piddling amount of money.  After successfully getting the judgment, he began efforts to collect it.  After some time, he managed to persuade the court to award him not only the $93.99, but $2,900 more for “fees, costs and interests” that he claimed to have incurred as a result of spending his time trying to collect the $93.99.

A divided state Supreme Court, shockingly, upheld the judgment.  Justice Cotter dissented, calling the decision [UPDATED pdf] “unconscionable” and an “affront,” scolding Wittich for “financial carnage wreaked upon [the Bozeman couple] for their refusal to pay a disputed $93.”  Justice Baker grudgingly voted in favor of Wittich because there was apparently a contract, which Wittich had gotten the couple to sign, including a clause that allowed him, ultimately, to get this outrageous amount of money from them in the event of a collection action.  But Justice Baker strongly cautioned him to review the rules of the State Bar which address lawyers and their billing practices, and are designed to prevent lawyers from fleecing their clients.

And Cotter notes that when the dust finally settles, the couple will probably owe north of $5,000 to Wittich, because Wittich will try to recoup additional costs from them, namely, his costs in litigating the case of the $93.99 in front of the Supreme Court.

In essence, Whittich did what he could, not what he should.  Nice guy.

Oh, and one other point, which goes without saying: if Wittich ever thought he could run for statewide office, that dream he can now kiss goodbye.


10 Comments on "Small Claims: Wittich sues former client for $93.99 of unpaid bills"

  1. Kevin D Curtis | May 14, 2013 9:10 AM at 9:10 AM |

    So much for the Republicans being for the little guy and against frivolous law suits. Almost every Republican I saw in Helena this year was only concerned and consumed with power, greed and the total control of our lives and how we live them. Freedom is a foreign concept to them. The MT GOP will only be happy when we are all corporate wage slaves. Their “Free Market” is OUR slavery. Everything they spout is a lie, absolutely everything.

  2. Too bad you put the political party taint on this, as it highlights an important aspect of our country, the corrupt legal system. Only on TV are “unconscionable” outcomes avoided. Consumers have very little protection other than through government agencies, and no ability to actually test the law in court because the costs and technicalities are beyond them, and lawyers are by their code of ethics bound to seek not justice, but rather to protect the wealth of their clients. This is all lawyers, all parties. Of course there are good and honorable men and women in that profession, but their obligations often trump their consciences. Otherwise, they do not prosper.

    There is a very good woman (by appearances) who is trying to tilt the scales towards us, and that is Elizabeth Warren, who wants to eliminate “word barf” contracts and force lawyers to reduce consumer contracts to a few understandable phrases. Obama, of course, did not like her and forced her out of the executive branch. Her reappearance in the Senate surely annoys him.

    • I disagree Obama did like Elizabeth, but she would never have been confirmed because every GOP senator promised to vote against confirmation. Reason Given? Her developing the Consumer Protection Agency, and helping Barney Franks, and Chris Dodd. Both highly un-liked democrats by the Conservatives as well.

      • She’s doing good work in the Senate none the less and requiring contracts laypeople can understand admirable. Mr. Wittich – and I’ve dealt with his as counsel – I’m sure pursued this on ‘principle’ but it may appear mean-spirited and at what cost for his statewide reputation? Can he turn the other cheek?

  3. For some reason I’m reminded of when we found out — after the election, of course — of Judy Martz’s five-figure settlement for her “injuries” during a “hard landing” in an airplane.
    Who knows what she would have got in an actual crash?

  4. Your link to the decision demands of me an ID and password before I can go on.

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