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Lawyer sues clients for $5 million

By Barbara Gayle, Staff Reporter

KINGSTON ATTORNEY Gresford Jones has sued four clients for legal fees amounting to $5.7 million with interest.

The clients are Yvon Desulme, Thomas Desulme, Claude Desulme and Myrtha Desulme who had sought Mr. Jones' legal services in relation to the estate of their father, Thomas Desulme, founder and chairman of Thermo-Plastics (Jamaica) Ltd.

Mr. Jones who was represented by Dennis Morrison, Q.C. and attorney Julianne Mais, instructed by Dunn Cox Orrett and Ashenheim, had filed for summary judgment. He contended that the defendants did not have a defence to the action.

The defendants who were represented by attorneys Miss G. Mullings and Miss L. Stewart, instructed by Patrick Bailey and Co., contended that they had a defence to the action and should be given leave to defend the action.

After a four-day hearing in the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Karl Harrison dismissed Mr. Jones' application for summary judgment and granted the defendants unconditional leave to defend the suit. The defendants were also granted leave to file and serve their proposed amended defence within the next 14 days. Costs were awarded to three of the defendants.

Mr. Jones is contending that by an agreement in writing between himself and the defendants, he represented them on a contingency basis with matters arising from the estate of Thomas Desulme. The first agreement was signed on April 30, 1996 for $3 million. There were subsequent agreements which ended in the fee being increased to $5 million. He is seeking interest at six per cent from June 24, 1999 to the date of judgment.

He said that pursuant to the agreements, he acted as the defendants' lawyer in two suits in the Supreme Court which ended in 1998 in the defendants' favour.

The defendants have said that they entered into a contingency agreement with Mr. Jones. They are alleging that the agreement was contingent upon whether Mr. Jones enabled them to access benefits under their father's will. They are contending Mr. Jones never enabled them to access such benefits and he was therefore not entitled to collect the money alleged or any sum at all. They are contending the fees demanded by Mr. Jones were unfair, excessive, oppressive and unreasonable having regard to the minimal work he did.

The defendants said Mr. Jones represented them in two cases and one of them was being appealed. They are alleging Mr. Jones formulated and prepared the agreements and they signed them under undue influence. They are contending they were not allowed to have another attorney-at-law to peruse the agreements, hence they were unable to receive independent legal advice.

Mr. Jones has denied there was any undue influence.

Mr. Justice Karl Harrison said that the affidavit evidence on behalf of the defendants and the draft defence, demonstrated that a variety of serious issues arose for consideration. He said that in the circumstances it was his view that those issues ought to be resolved at a trial.

"Furthermore, the plaintiff's claim raises questions which are of general public importance both to the legal profession and to the public at large," the judge said.

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