Estate of legendary Aurora attorney sues firm for contract breach

Updated 3/27/2018 4:56 PM

The estate of a well-known Aurora attorney has sued a law firm for breach of contract, arguing lawyers kept $150,000 from a personal injury settlement that should have went to his heirs under a referral agreement.

The son of William C. Murphy sued the Aurora-based firm of Kinnally Flaherty Krenz Loran Hodge & Masur this month.

According to the suit, Murphy and the firm agreed in 2004 that he should receive 33.3 percent of any net settlement fee for cases that he referred to the firm. The contract was renewed yearly and Murphy wrote a letter to his son, William F. Murphy, in February 2016 outlining his interest in two ongoing cases.

William C. Murphy died in November 2016 and lawyers at the firm breached the contract when they kept $150,000 from a settlement in fall 2017, the lawsuit argues.

Messages left with the firm were not returned, but it argues its contractual obligations expired two months after Murphy's death.

Thomas Demetrio, who is representing Murphy's son, had no comment.

During his 68-year legal career, William C. Murphy represented a variety of clients and some of his cases set legal precedents. One was from the 1950s, when he represented a family whose children were injured in a Kaneland Community School District bus fire. The state's Supreme Court ruled to end "sovereign immunity" and allowed governments to be held liable for negligence by their employees or agents.

Murphy also served as a defense attorney for two Illinois Supreme Court justices accused of ethics violations. They eventually resigned in 1969; the prosecutor in the case was John Paul Stevens, who went on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mark Masur, a partner in the firm, wrote a letter to Demetrio in July 2017, saying the case in question was settled, but under the "crystal clear language of the contract," Murphy's estate was not owed any fees.

Masur's letter said the firm offered $150,000 out of "respect and admiration" for Murphy to his estate but it would be withdrawn on Aug. 7, 2017, if not accepted.

"Bill was a wily and astute businessman, and he unconditionally agreed that he and his estate were not entitled to any fees received more than two months after the agreement was terminated. The sole question is what the parties agreed to and not what his heirs wished they agreed to," Masur wrote.

The two sides are due in court on May 29.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.