Provost Umphrey Law Firm seeks to abate former partner’s suit

By David Yates | Nov 12, 2015

The equity partners at the Provost Umphrey Law Firm in Beaumont recently filed a motion to abate a lawsuit brought by a their former colleague, Paul ‘Chip’ Ferguson.

A total of three lawsuits have been filed in the unfolding drama between Ferguson and PU – all of which center around a settlement agreement Ferguson negotiated with Umphrey before officially resigning on Aug. 3.

The first suit was brought by Ferguson while PU filed the second. Both cases have been assigned to an outside judge. Also, all the parties in the litigation have filed motions to consolidate.

That latest suit to be filed was by Ferguson on Sept. 1 against PU equity partners Walter Umphrey, Bryan Blevins, Edward Fisher, Joe Fisher, D’Juana Parks, James Payne and David Wilson.

The PU partners filed their motion to abate on Nov. 6, arguing the overlapping lawsuits should not continue on parallel tracks, court records show.

PU seeks to force Ferguson into arbitration in accordance with a 2012 partnership agreement he signed, while Ferguson is seeking to have the settlement agreement enforced.

The law firm has filed two answers to Ferguson’s second suit, asserting their former partner took advantage of firm founder Walter Umphrey and his ailing mental condition.

The partners contend Umphrey’s mental capacity began to decline in 2014 and that he lacked the capacity to contract, let alone negotiate, Ferguson’s side agreement.

According to the PU partners, Ferguson claims he is entitled to:

• Fees up to eight times his equity share at the time of his withdraw;

• No liability to the firm for existing expenses;

• The sole, unassailable right to claim ownership of client files;

• The right to unethically prohibit the firm from communicating with its clients;

• 20 percent of the annual equity partner bonus for the next 10 years;

• 20 percent of life insurance proceeds for which Sheila Umphrey is the beneficiary related to the death of Walter Umphrey, whenever that may be; and

• The right to arbitrate any challenges to his one-sided agreement in an arbitration forum where he can select two of the three arbitrators, arbitrators that need not be neutral.

Ferguson, on the other hand, has contended in court documents that Umphrey was still the managing partner of PU at the time the settlement agreement was executed.

PU is represented by Fields Alexander of the Houston law firm Beck Redden.

Attorney Ricky Raven of the Houston law firm Reed Smith represents Ferguson.

The case has been assigned to Judge Kent Walston, 58th District Court (case No. A-197499).

PU’s suit against Ferguson is being handled by Judge Olen Underwood of the Second Judicial Administrative Region of Texas.

PU asserts a Jan. 1, 2012 partnership agreement in place between the parties contains a broad and mandatory arbitration clause.

According to PU’s separate lawsuit, Ferguson is claiming he is not bound by the partnership agreement and that he is entitled to “much more than a departing partner is entitled to receive” under the agreement.

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