Courier Journal reporter Andrew Wolfson wrote an interesting article in today's paper on a legal malpractice case being tried here in Louisville, Kentucky. Most Louisvillians will remember attorney Steven H. Keeney as the subject of the book Death Benefit, which outlines his involvement unraveling the murder of a woman by her two companions in California.
Now Keeney is defending himself against allegations he took a client's money he wasn't entitled to and then failed to file her lawsuit before the statute of limitations expired. It seems Keeney was hired by a woman after a plane crashed into her house. She claims he was hired to help her obtain insurance benefits and to sue the pilot and recover for her personal injuries and emotional distress as a result of the plane crashing into her house and the subsequent issues of dealing with her insurance company. According to the article, Keeny took 20% of her homeowner's insurance proceeds, but failed to file the personal injury lawsuit against the pilot on time, resulting in her personal injury claim being dismissed.
It seems this is not the first time Keeney has had problems in his legal career. His license to practice law has been suspended by the Kentucky Supreme Court on two occasions.
Here is the first order of suspension:
Pursuant to SCR 3.370(6)(7), attorney Steven H. Keeney of Louisville has requested a review of a recommendation by the Board of Governors of the Kentucky Bar Association. The recommendation was to the effect that Keeney should be suspended from the practice of law for 59 days for being in violation of SCR 3.130-1.16(d) for failing to return unearned fees advanced to him by a client, and for being in violation of SCR 3.130-1.3 for failure to exercise diligence and promptness in the representation of a client.
His primary defense is his record and reputation for good character and statements that the charges are unfounded because of a contract that existed between himself and the client. This contract was provided to the client by Keeney's office in the form of what is called an Engagement Agreement.
The contract clearly states that the client was to advance the sum of $4,000.00 and that the advance would be first applied to costs and then to fees. There is nothing within the record to lead this Court to conclude that the $4,000.00 payment was for prior services rendered or any other purpose but to pursue a civil action against his client's former employer. There is no evidence to indicate that this task was ever undertaken by Keeney. To further compound his misconduct, Keeney stubbornly refused to return his file to the client on request and maintains he has done nothing to violate the standards of practice.
The Court has fully considered the notice for review and brief filed by counsel for Keeney and the brief for the Kentucky Bar Association.
The recommendation of the Board of Governors of the Kentucky Bar Association that Keeney be suspended from the practice of law for a period of 59 days for violations of SCR 3.130-1.3 and SCR 3.130-1.16(d) is hereby adopted as the decision of this Court.
IT IS ORDERED that
1) Steven H. Keeney shall pay the costs of this action.
2) That Steven H. Keeney is suspended from the practice of law in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, commencing with the date of the entry of this order, for a period of 59 days.
ENTERED this 1st day of July, 1993.
/s/ Robert F. Stephens
Here is the second order of suspension:
Steven H. Keeney accepted a retainer fee from an out-of-state lawyer to assist in collecting an attorney's fee from an estate in Kentucky. Because Keeney ceased communicating with the client, the matter was turned over to the Kentucky Bar Association for further action.
After the filing of the complaint, the respondent failed to respond to inquiries from the KBA. As a result, charges were made against the respondent. Count I charged a failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. Count II charged a failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
After investigation, the KBA found that the respondent did accept the retainer fee and did not perform any legal services for his client, although, during the course of the investigation, the respondent did return the retainer fee. The Board of Governors found that there was sufficient evidence to support a verdict of guilt on both counts. The Board also entered into the record the fact that Keeney had been previously suspended from the practice of law on July 1, 1993, for fifty-nine days for failure to return unearned fees advanced to him by another client and for failure to exercise diligence and promptness in the representation of that client. A sixty-day suspension was recommended.
The respondent, Steven H. Keeney, is hereby found guilty of one count of failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, and one count of failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. As a result, the respondent is suspended from the practice of law for sixty days from the date of this Order.
ENTERED: February 24, 1994.
/s/Robert F. Stephens
ROBERT F. STEPHENS,
The trial has been going on for almost two weeks and the jury should begin deliberations on Monday.