Oopsie, Peggy Sue, you've got some 'splaining to do.
Brazoria County judge wannabe Peggy Sue Bittick, a family court attorney in Pearland, violated a Texas State Bar rule when she failed to return more than $7,000 to a client who had paid her in advance to represent him in a child custody case. That's according to the June issue of the Texas Bar Journal.
But that sounds so boring. Bittick's version is much more interesting. It's a saga involving a lottery winner, an alleged cash gift and then a good ol' fashioned backstabbing.
According to the Texas Bar Journal, Bittick's client, who remains anonymous, paid her $24,000 to litigate his case. Once the case was over, however, $7,776 of the prepaid fees remained with Bittick. When the client allegedly asked for the money back, Bittick refused. The Bar decided in November that Bittick had violated its rules and ordered Bittick to pay $1,300 in attorney's fees and expenses and to give her client back the $7,000 and change. In addition, a formal reprimand was placed in Bittick's permanent file.
Now for Bittick's side of things.
She tells Hair Balls that her client, a Texas lottery winner, was "one of those who was showing off his wealth because he had come from a hard-scrabble background." At the same time, she says, he was also "a cool, great guy," because he had followed through on a promise to split his lottery winnings with a friend. Bittick says she "did a fabulous job" on the case and won her client custody of his son, and as a gift for doing so well he told her to keep the remaining $7,776 that he had paid her in advance.
That's when the trouble began.
"Instead of it being a gift that I just took and went on down the road," says Bittick, "I decided to carry it as a credit for him."
As the months rolled by, Bittick says her office continued to send the client an invoice showing that he had a credit with her office should he need to hire her again. When the client contacted Bittick to discuss the balance, Bittick claims he wouldn't come to her office to hash things out. "The next thing you know," says Bittick, "he's filed a grievance against me."
Bittick said she contested the matter with the State Bar, but that the Bar ultimately sided with her client.
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"I could have asked for a trial," she says. "I could have done all kinds of things, but this guy was a nice guy and I did a good job for him and unfortunately he changed his mind about how things went down and I'm stupid for not having gotten this deal in writing."
As for how she thinks the reprimand may affect her candidacy for Brazoria County judge and what she learned from all of this, Bittick says, "It's one of those things where, even though I'm not happy to have a public reprimand on my record, I know I didn't do what he said I did. I believe I was wrongly accused and I believe that adds to my ability to judge people who are often wrongly or falsely accused."
But enough with the spin, Peggy Sue. What do you really think?
"It sucks on a lot of levels," she says.