St. Louis bankruptcy firm Critique Services must shut down permanently and pay more than $115,000 in restitution and penalties the Missouri Attorney General’s office announced Thursday, in the same week when two lawyers connected with Critique lost their licenses.
On Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court suspended Elbert A. Walton Jr., for 18 months and James C. Robinson for one year.
Critique Services, and its owner Beverly Diltz, reached an agreement with the attorney general’s office to resolve litigation claiming the company defrauded consumers in the purchase of bankruptcy services.
The consent judgment, reached on March 28, orders Critique and Diltz to pay more than $90,000 in restitution to more than 150 former clients and $25,000 in civil penalties. The judgment also shuts down the business permanently and prohibits Critique and Diltz “from advertising, offering, or performing bankruptcy services in Missouri again.”
The judgment comes after a March 2016 lawsuit that alleged the company and Diltz violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act “by, among other things, failing to provide promised bankruptcy services or performing them so poorly as to be worthless or even harmful.”
Critique allegedly would take money from clients and not follow up with any action in their bankruptcy cases, ignoring any subsequent phone calls or visits to the office.
“As a result, their clients suffered wage garnishment, utility disconnection, vehicle repossession, and home eviction, among other harm,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said.
The judgment provides restitution for consumers who file a complaint with the attorney general’s office within 90 days of the judgment, which would be by June 27.
“The resolution of this lawsuit shows that my office has the back of the hundreds of Missourians that came to us for help,” said Attorney General Josh Hawley. “Let this be a warning to those who would prey on vulnerable communities and exploit the bankruptcy system: we remain vigilant.”
Attorney Laurence D. Mass, who represented Critique and Diltz in the suit, declined to comment on the agreement. He said Critique “has been closed for quite a while.”
A recorded phone message for Critique says that the business is closed and will provide refunds “when appropriate” for individuals who were clients of attorneys with which it had an agreement. It also provides instructions on obtaining a refund.
In addition to Diltz and Critique, the March 2016 lawsuit names others connected with Critique as defendants, including Robinson. Walton Jr., is listed in the March 2016 lawsuit as Robinson’s lawyer.
The discipline against the pair stems from a case in which Robinson allegedly abandoned his client, LaToya L. Steward, according to court records. Walton became involved in the case and also allegedly committed acts of misconduct, according to case filings.
The bankruptcy court found Robinson in contempt and ordered both attorneys liable for $30,000 in sanctions and another $19,720 in attorney’s fees incurred by the client’s counsel in litigating discovery.
The court also sanctioned both attorneys for making false statements in court and suspended them from practicing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The court ordered their actions to be investigated by other authorities, including the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
In arguments in the Missouri Supreme Court last month, Bernard F. Edwards Jr., who represented both Robinson and Walton, focused on jurisdiction for the reciprocal disciplinary actions, arguing that after the bankruptcy court issued sanctions it falls to the federal district court next for review.
“I would suggest the rule of reciprocity does not apply,” he said.
Walton declined to comment on the discipline case, and when asked about the agreement between the attorney general’s office and Critique, he said he had “no relations” with Critique Services.
Robinson also declined to comment on his discipline case and said he was “not familiar” with the agreement between the attorney general’s office and Critique.
Two other attorneys are named in the state’s lawsuit against Critique, Dean Meriwether and Renee Mayweather. The Missouri Supreme Court suspended Meriwether for a year last March. He remains unlicensed to practice in Missouri.
Mayweather, formerly an Illinois attorney, is not licensed in Missouri. The Illinois attorney registry lists him as “retired-removed and not authorized to practice law.” He was last registered in 2016.