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July 18th, 2007 JAMES PITKIN | Rogue of the Week
 

"S.O.B." lawyer sues clients.

     
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IMAGE: chad crowe

We interrupt our regularly scheduled roster of villainy with the following Rogue update.

We've learned Portland divorce lawyer Allan Knappenberger—a former WW coverboy (see "S.O.B., Esq.," WW, March 22, 2000) with a reputation that outrages even some of his fellow lawyers—has taken to suing his own clients. That's after an Oregon State Bar trial panel ordered him disbarred March 7.

The bar had already suspended Knappenberger's license for one year in 2005, but that didn't take effect until July 21, 2006, after the state Supreme Court upheld the suspension. Since then, Knappenberger has been barred from taking on new cases. But a WW review of court records shows he's staying active as a plaintiff filing suits against former clients.

Since Feb. 20 of this year—about two weeks before the three-member Bar panel ordered him disbarred—Knappenberger has sued 25 of his former clients in Multnomah County Circuit Court for outstanding legal fees. WW reviewed the 10 most recent of those lawsuits and found Knappenberger was asking for $193,528.96 in outstanding fees altogether, plus 9 percent interest.

The Roguish irony is that clients for years have accused Knappenberger of overbilling.

"He bills like crazy," says Lake Oswego lawyer John Sather, who has represented Knappenberger's former clients in cases against him. "He'll have a case that will cost $20,000, and he'll get it done for two or three times that."

Knappenberger declined last Friday to be interviewed at length, but he did have a few choice words for WW. "You must really think people are stupid," he said when asked to comment. "When I'm suing [clients], do you know what the responses to the complaints have been? Of course you don't."

Actually, we do. One has already countersued, and another says he's refusing to pay up and plans to defend himself in court.

James Barri of Birmingham, Ala., filed countersuit June 29 after Knappenberger sued him April 16 for $74,758.72 plus interest. His countersuit claims fraud and malpractice by Knappenberger, including billing for unnecessary services and for services not rendered in s 2006 spousal support case.

Barri isn't alone.

"Of course I'm gonna fight it," says John Cochran, a retired bus driver Knappenberger sued for $5,167 plus interest over a case involving alleged domestic violence, which was later dismissed.

Since he started practicing law in 1973, Knappenberger, who charges $250 an hour, according to court files and other lawyers, has racked up 125 complaints at the bar, mostly from ex-clients. The vast majority were dismissed.

But the bar has slapped Knappenberger with one public reprimand, a 90-day suspension and a 120-day suspension. Both of those, and his current one-year suspension, were backed up by Supreme Court rulings that found he'd violated bar rules against conflict of interest, neglecting client matters and communicating with represented parties about an action against Knappenberger.

In a 2002 bar proceeding, Knappenberger defended his billing, saying he works 364 days a year for nearly 15 hours a day. Alan Bacharach, a public member of the trial panel, wrote that "if truthful, he presents a clear and present danger to the public. If not truthful, he presents a clear and present danger to the public."

In its decision to disbar Knappenberger for four separate rules violations in three cases, the bar panel wrote that Knappenberger's "sheer number of violations indicates a lawyer with a broken compass." Knappenberger is challenging that ruling in the state Supreme Court. He won't actually be disbarred unless he loses the appeal.

Of 13,000 lawyers in Oregon, 10 were disbarred last year.

Knappenberger hasn't yet applied to the bar to get his license back after his one-year suspension is up this month—a necessary step.

When his license is under suspension, Knappenberger transfers his clients to other Portland law offices and works as a paralegal on their cases. The bar panel that ordered him disbarred was concerned in March about Knappenberger continuing "to act as a lawyer under the pretense of acting as a paralegal."

Lawyers who have employed Knappenberger as a paralegal have included Rick Todd, Greg Soriano and Richard Cohen. Soriano's office declined to comment; Todd confirmed Knappenberger worked for him.

"The thing about Mr. Knappenberger that most people don't know is that he is a bright, talented man," Cohen says, adding that Knappenberger is no longer employed by him. He declined to say why, but added, "Mr. Knappenberger is not all bad."

 
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