Bellingham attorney suspended for one year by state bar

A Bellingham attorney’s license has been suspended for one year for overcharging a client, who then went bankrupt, and other ethical violations.

Eric Michael Weight, of Weight Law Offices, had been hired to represent a man in the midst of a divorce in December 2010. The couple, who operated a disposal business in Bellingham, owned 13 properties that needed to be divided up or sold off.

Weight agreed to be paid an hourly rate with 1 percent interest per month, according to Washington State Bar Association records. Eleven months into the divorce case, as the bills and interest on those bills mounted, Weight capped the fees at $90,000, “a final flat fee amount,” according to a letter. He did not mention he’d be charging interest on top of that.

Three months later Weight was hired again by the same client for a flat fee of $10,000, to help with more problems that arose after the actual divorce. However he charged an extra $1,457 in fees.

Weight expected to get paid through the sale of a property on East Smith Road. In February 2012, two days before the real estate sale was supposed to close, Weight filed a claim of lien stating he’d get more than $103,000 of the proceeds from the sale, even though he hadn’t earned the $10,000 fee yet.

Once the property sold, Weight drafted what’s called a distribution letter stating he’d get $130,000 of the proceeds. Most of the extra charges, Weight claimed, were a flat fee for “future legal services … for the remainder of the year, but there was no written agreement for a flat fee for $20,000,” according to the bar association’s disciplinary counsel. The American Bar Association requires all fees must be spelled out in a written contract.

Weight never explained to the client how he calculated an extra $6,500 in interest, according to the state bar’s disciplinary board.

Four months later, after the client filed for bankruptcy, Weight paid back $20,541 to the man’s bankruptcy estate. One-and-a-half years later, he reimbursed another $50,000.

The state bar’s disciplinary board accused Weight of:

•  “failure to promptly return unearned and/or excessive fees, costs, and interest,” the transgression that earned him the one-year suspension;

•  “charging unreasonable fees, costs/expenses, and/or interest”;

•  and having a conflict of interest, in February 2012, without getting consent from the client in writing.

Weight signed stipulation papers — a “compromise agreement” admitting to the ethical violations — last year. Months later a disciplinary board approved the paperwork, and the suspension began this week.

Weight had been licensed to practice law since 1991, with no history of discipline. The law firm he opened with his wife, Laura Weight, remains in business, though the firm’s website is no longer live.