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Kalamazoo woman short-changed by no-show attorney; state records reveal pattern

Posted at 6:56 PM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 18:56:11-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- When Sharon Coulter needed help with a long-term disability issue, the Kalamzoo retiree found an attorney in southeast Michigan who was willing to take on her case. Coulter said she met with attorney Gary S. Fields once, in fall 2013. But after he took her $850 payment, she said he did absolutely nothing but disappear.

"Three months went by, and I was telling my son, 'I haven't heard from our attorney, better give him a call,'' Coulter recalled.

She explained, "Each time I would call him he would go, 'Everything is going forward as planned, moving forward as planned.'"

Fields worked for Johnson Law firm at the time and had given her a contract to sign. Her son, Willie, provided the $850. The last correspondence Coulter received from Fields was a faxed letter in March 2014. It stated that the case was "proceeding as expected". However, time kept on ticking. Coulter remained patient.

"And then one day my son went, 'Momma, I hope he haven't stiffen us up for his money," Coulter said.

But that’s just what she said he did. Months later, in January 2015, she got a letter from Johnson Law stating Mr. Fields was no longer with the firm and that her case had been reassigned to another attorney there.

"I was asking, questioning [the reassigned attorney] about Mr. Fields, and I didn't think they would tell me. I said, 'What happened to the $850 that my son, that we paid him?' She goes, 'That's gone,'" Coulter recalled.

It wasn't a good enough answer for Coulter. So after months of waiting and wondering, she reached out to the FOX 17 Problem Solvers for help.

"I mean, he should have given us some kind of explanation. 'Well, Ms. Coulter I'm going to refund your money back. I'm leaving the firm, and I'm sorry for not handling your case the proper way,'" Coulter reasoned.

The FOX 17 Problem Solvers did some digging and as it turns out, Sharon Coulter isn't alone. In November 2015, Gary S. Fields was disbarred in Michigan. His license was revoked.
The state attorney discipline board said he failed to communicate with his clients, charged excessive fees, and even neglected his clients. He now owes restitution of close to $50,000.

The Problem Solvers reached out to Johnson Law and heard back from attorney Bob Riley who represents the firm. He said Johnson Law "is familiar with various matters involving Mr. Fields. Following action by the State Bar of Michigan, we are working to address these matters with the cooperation of Mr. Fields and his counsel."

The Problem Solvers also reached out to another firm Fields worked for prior to Johnson Law: Eisenberg, Benson and Fields. Attorney Alex Benson told the Problem Solvers he fired Fields in 2013. He said Fields owes him over $100,000 in client referral fees. It's money Benson said he doesn't expect he'll ever see.

But $850 is a lot of money for a retiree.

"I think we should get our money and shouldn't let... get away scot-free," Coulter said.

The Problem Solvers made several phone calls and tracked down Gary Fields. He returned our message for him. Fields declined a phone interview, but he said he is no longer practicing law. He said he remembers Coulter’s name but not the situation. Fields said he would be more than happy to refund her money within the next 30 days.

At Coulter's request, the Problem Solvers provided Fields with the news station's mailing address and are awaiting Coulter's check.