Albuquerque attorney Russ Whitener advertises statewide with the slogan, “Before you accept a quick check, check with me.”
A Las Vegas family did check with the lawyer, but he failed to do his job, according to a lawsuit filed last week in District Court in Las Vegas.
Joe Robert Encinias, a former Robertson High School student, is suing the Whitener Law Firm, alleging the firm didn’t have the ability to handle a claim against the Las Vegas City Schools.
Encinias is represented by Roger Eaton and David Houliston of Albuquerque’s Will Ferguson Law Firm.
Encinias’ lawsuit claims that the members of the Whitener firm are settlement attorneys who depend on their advertising to bring in a large volume of cases with little effort on their part.
The lawsuit calls the Whitener firm a “settlement mill,” alleging that none of the firm’s attorneys have tried a case in front of a jury for five years before Encinias’ parents signed up as the firm’s clients.
“The Whitener Law Firm was not a firm that had the ability to prepare and try cases in court, but was actually a settlement mill that takes money by taking a large volume of cases and settling them for less than they are worth,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, the Whitener firm’s advertising used “exaggeration and innuendo” about its legal ability, deceiving the family into thinking its attorneys were competent.
According to the lawsuit, the family wanted to pursue a claim against the City Schools for failure to provide security in an area where the students ate lunch.
The family claimed that Robertson failed to follow its own rules banning suspended students from returning to the campus. As a result, Encinias, then 14, was injured. His lawsuit estimates that his past and future medical expenses amount to $300,000.
In this case, the incident happened Sept. 30, 2004, but the Whitener firm didn’t file a lawsuit until November 2004. That was after the two-year statute of limitations for filing such a claim, said Encinias’ attorney, Eaton. The school district had the lawsuit dismissed as a result.
“Russ Whitener is not a trial lawyer. He is a former insurance adjuster who ended up going to law school,” Eaton said. “He generates cases through his advertising. Up until recently, they didn’t try cases; they settled them. They just finished a trial, but it wasn’t Russ Whitener who was the attorney.”
Encinias is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
Whitener didn’t return messages left at his office.