Roberts v. LanierAnnotate this Case
Barbara Roberts sued Steve Lanier and his firm Steve Lanier, PC, and Rodney Stallings and his firm Coggin & Stallings, LLC. In 2006, Ms. Roberts was arrested on murder charges and sent to the Cherokee County jail. She contacted Attorney Lanier, who then met with her and agreed to represent her in her criminal proceedings. The contract between them provided that Ms. Roberts would pay a "nonrefundable retainer" of $50,000. At that time, Ms. Roberts executed a power-of-attorney authorizing Mr. Lanier to withdraw the retainer from her bank accounts. Ms. Roberts testified at trial that she first learned that Mr. Lanier was not licensed to practice law in Alabama when she appeared for her first hearing at the district court. It was then that she was introduced to Mr. Stallings, who "associated" on her case. Seeing no need for two lawyers, she tried to terminate Mr. Lanier's representation. Mr. Stallings eventually managed Ms. Roberts' case, having all her mail sent to his office so that he could "oversee every aspect" of her personal life, including payment of all outstanding bills and expenses. Ms. Roberts alleged that instead of using her money for the purposes she intended, Mr. Stallings misappropriated approximately $100,000 of her funds. Ms. Roberts was eventually convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. She later learned that the "nonrefundable retainer" language in her contract with Mr. Lanier was unenforceable under Alabama law, and sued her former lawyers for legal malpractice. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the lawyers. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the lawyers only with respect to employment contract and the "nonrefundable retainer" and the misappropriation of Ms. Roberts' money for expenses while she awaited trial. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.