Custody Hearing on 2/16 - Problems with Attorney

To remind you of my situation:

I moved to FL, my ex filed a motion to modify custody. I have primary physical and legal custody and there was no set visitation schedule. He hardly saw my girls.

I have been having problems with my attorney. I’m not sure if he thought my case would be settled or was preoccupied or what. He was elected to the House of Reps recently, but didn’t notify me until about three weeks before the hearing.

Attorney was somehow not listed as attorney of record. He did not receive notice of calendar call, but received notice of hearing from opposing counsel. I found out by calling the court. Attorney did not show at calendar call on 12/19. Hearing was set for 2/16. Again, I found out be calling the court. I notified my attorney before Christmas.

In early January, I called attorney to find out what was going on. I hadn’t heard anything from him. He asked me what my ex wanted - was he truly going for physical custody (shouldn’t he know that by speaking with opposing counsel?). I said I assumed so, since that was the motion he filed. I asked about next steps. Shouldn’t we request Discovery, file a response to the motion?

He said we could go ahead and request Discovery and he preferred to file a response just before the hearing. He sent is standard Discovery to me to review. I did, added some things and sent it back the next day. A week goes by and I see nothing. I try calling - leave messages. I sent an e-mail to him and his assistant on 01/15 stating our hearing was approximately 30 days away and I had not seen Discovery go out. I was worred about the timeline. I know they have 30 days to respond.

Finally talk to my attorney on 01/20 and he sends out Discovery. He asks me when the hearing is (shouldn’t he know this?) and then states he is not even available that day because he is in session in Raleigh. He mentions sending an associate and we discuss his requesting a continuance. He sends letter to opposing counsel asking if they would agree to continuance, but nothing to the court.

A week goes by, we are now two weeks away from hearing. No Discovery, attorney not availble for hearing, we haven’t discussed evidence, witnesses - nothing!

I call again - a little panicked. He hasn’t requested continuance. Long story short, he didn’t request continuance in time, but we still had a chance. Opposing counsel files motion for contempt to be heard on same day. I’m tired and want this over with so I withdrew the request for continuance and ask my attorney for an associate.

Seven business days before the hearing is the first time I heard from the associate. She talks with me for about 30 minutes, goes over the contempt motion, asks me to send her response to allegations via e-mail, which I did.

The week before hearing, opposing counsel decides they want to settle, but we can’t agree on some items. The spent the whole week haggling. I ended up in a hearing on Monday, with the associate. I wasn’t even sure she was coming. She called about an hour before the hearing and said she was on her way. Their phone lines and e-mail were down all morning.

She spends the time before the hearing trying to haggle with opposing counsel just to determine what we already knew - we wouldn’t come to an agreement. She spends the last 15 minutes talking to me, getting names of my witnesses, breezing through all the documents (evidence) I brought and here we go to the hearing. BTW, I brought four copies of everything.

She was not prepared! She had no idea what questions to ask upon cross-examination. She didn’t have evidence to present, because she hadn’t seen it until a few minutes before. I was panicking, but trying not to show it. I was thinking I needed to fire her right there or I was in trouble.

My ex doesn’t have a case at all, but at least his attorney was prepared. He knew what questions to ask his witnesses and presented evidence.

A miracle happened! My case was bumped because we started late and another case was behind us where the participants and attorney came in from MD. i’m not sure why MD trump my coming from FL, but I was thankful it does. We were postponed to 3/13.

I spoke with my attorney when we left the court room. She asked to take my box of documents with her. I told her I would drop a copy of each item at her office the next morning. I didn’t want to give her all my copies. I was upset, but polite. I told her I could not come back without her being prepared.

We spoke the next day and I asked to have a call with her late in the week after she had time to review my documents. I told her I wanted to know what her strategy was, what witnesses she planned to call and general what she planned to ask them. I also wanted to know what eviidence she thought was pertinent and planned to present. We are supposed to speak this afternoon.

My plan is to see if I am comfortable with her strategy and if not, fire her. If I fire her, I have no choice, but to represent myself because it is too late and I can’t start all over with another attorney (financially speaking). I can’t decide which is worse, an bad attorney or representing myself.

I think the attorney’s actions are inexcusable. You can’t come to a hearing having read a client’s file, no idea of what witnesses are coming and what they can testify to and not having reviewed the evidence.

I am hot. Am I justified?

What do you suggest my next step is?

It may be that the attorney’s strategy all along was to have the case bumped to the next term, but I can’t say for sure. If you are uncomfortable with her moving forward I suggest you speak with her about your feelings before the trial date rolls around. You should set an appointment with her and speak to her in person to get a true understanding of what is going on.
If all else fails, you may want to contact the State Bar and report this behavior.