If there is a day in law school when students learn not to refer to an opposing counsel as “asswipe,” well, local attorney Caldwell Hancock must have been sick. Perhaps he also skipped the lesson on how to submit a fee application, otherwise he might have learned that it’s not wise to bill your client for five straight 20-hour days.
But Hancock seems to have an answer for everything, which should come in handy since he is the subject of an objection by a United States trustee who characterizes his conduct in a recent bankruptcy case as sloppy and abusive. That’s a rather broad swipe, but he doesn’t try hard to undo it.
“Make sure you spell my name correctly and include my phone number and email,” he wrote in reply to a Scene request for comment. “So folks who want to hire a lawyer who is mean and tough and a street kid from South Nashville who was beaten by his stepfather with a tree limb yet managed to put himself through college and law school will be able to reach me.”
He concludes, “Be careful ole buddy.”
Well, just so we heed the good lawyer’s warning, if you do want a former street tough from South Nashville representing you in a bankruptcy case, you can reach Hancock at (615) 345-0202 or email him at email@example.com. Tell him the Scene sent you.
Last December, Barnhill’s Buffet, a chain that once operated restaurants in six states, filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, owing more than $27 million to a series of creditors including Wells Fargo Bank. It was, even by the rough and tumble standards of bankruptcy law, a volatile case with tempers flaring among the litany of attorneys involved. Hancock didn’t help. According to the bankruptcy trustee’s complaint, “the email traffic related to this case is saturated with the applicant’s abusive conduct toward other parties.”
In one such exchange, after Caldwell had reviewed a series of administrative matters taken by his client, he wrote to several of the attorneys, “let’s see how asswipe Mendes reacts.”
That attorney, respected bankruptcy lawyer Robert Mendes, was copied on that email.
Hancock says he never meant to copy Mendes on that email and meant it as a humorous riff off an old Saturday Night Live skit.
“I was embarrassed to death,” Hancock tells the Scene. “It was supposed to be an inside joke and a confidential communication but due to me punching the wrong Outlook button...it was an innocent mistake.”
Hancock adds that once he realized that he copied Mendes on his email, he wrote a note of apology and bought him a $50 bottle of wine.
For his part, Mendes confirmed that Hancock did try to smooth things with a letter and some libation. About the note that capped off the unpleasantness, he says, “I think the language in the email is self-explanatory.”
Like many attorneys, Hancock likes to trot out competing stories. When first asked about his fee application, which showed him working around the clock on behalf of his client, he tried to defend it. “Have you ever worked 17 hours (in a day)?” he asked. “You’re living a blessed life.”
But when pressed repeatedly about the details of his application, including three consecutive days when he billed more than 23 hours, and one day when he billed 27.5 hours, Hancock took a step back.
“It was a word processing error by someone who thought she was doing an excellent job,” he says. “What you’re looking at is way wrong.”
That’s good to know, since in a three-day stretch in January, Hancock billed his client for 23.4 hours, 24.25 hours and 27.25 hours. That comes out to nearly $27,000 for three days of lawyering at Hancock’s rate of $350 an hour. Overall, the attorney initially billed his bankrupt client $355,975 for a few months of legal work.
Of course, as Hancock says, that application was just a “misprint.” Or was it?
“It is now 8 p.m. on a Friday night, I started working at 7 this morning and am just now wrapping up,” he wrote the Scene. “That’s 13 hours—now if I stayed overnight how many hours would I have put in today. That’s right. 20. Of if I continue working until midnight, which has happened on occasion, it would be 17. How about that?”
Well-known among Nashville’s bankruptcy attorneys for his lively behavior, Hancock was involved in a dispute with another lawyer in 2004. That year he filed a complaint accusing a Houston attorney of, well, bumping his shoulder and standing in his way. He also alleged that the attorney screamed at him, hurling profanities his way.
“You are a fuck...you are a criminal,” the attorney allegedly said. “You are an incompetent and a disgrace to the legal profession...you should be disbarred.”
In his complaint, which was widely circulated among local attorneys, Hancock claimed that in the aftermath of his encounter with the Houston attorney, he remained bedridden for the better part of two working days. He also said that he had nightmares for three nights and suffered from nausea and diarrhea. Finally, he added that his adversary did “great and indeed immeasurable damage to Mr. Hancock’s standing at the bar, his business and his reputation.”
Hancock’s complaint was later dismissed by an agreed order.
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