Leawood lawyer receives stiffer suspension for mishandling couple’s homebuilding case

The Kansas Supreme Court says Joseph Borich must also pay back his one-time clients more than $46,000 in legal fees. Photo credit Joe Gratz. Used under a Creative Commons license.

A Leawood lawyer ‘s mishandling of a decade-long civil suit against a homebuilder has resulted in a one-year suspension and an order that he repay his clients $46,910 in legal fees.

Driving the news: In a new decision, the Kansas Supreme Court went further than a disciplinary panel in its sanctions against Joseph R. Borich III.

  • The panel had recommended a 90-day suspension and repayment of $21,900. But the high court ruled the infractions of attorney conduct rule were serious enough to go with a more rigorous penalty.

Background: According to the court record, Borich has been an attorney for 30 years in Kansas and Missouri and was a solo practitioner at the time of the case in question.

  • The action stems from mistakes Borich made that date back to 2007, when he began to represent clients a Lenexa couple in their efforts to claim damages against a home builder for alleged defects in their new $288,000 home.
  • The complex case wound its way through district and appeals court and federal court as well as three arbitration sessions.
  • The couple declined a $75,000 settlement offer and at one point requested an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Kansas Supreme Court’s document.
  • Shortly after that, the document said, Borich terminated his representation of the couple.
  • No damages were ever awarded.

The details: Borich had been representing his clients on a contingency fee equal to a percentage of damages awarded.

  • The state high court faulted Borich on a number of fronts and said his lack of tight record keeping contributed towards his clients’ confusion about what refunds of attorney fees they could get in the event there was not a damage award.
  • Although the court found Borich spent considerable effort on the case, he did not provide a detailed record of time spent that would have substantiated whether he’d fully earned the monthly payments his clients were making, the court said.
  • The couple’s money should have been put in a trust account, the ruling said. Instead, Borich returned $3,500 from his personal funds, claiming it was an arbitration award when none had been given.
  • The court also cited Borich on competency issues, noting deficiencies in some of his filings and appeals filed either too early or too late.

Reaching out: A working phone number for Borich could not be found Monday.

  • The Lenexa couple, who are only identified by their initials in the supreme court’s decision but whose names are found in previous court cases, could not be reached for comment.

What’s next: The court said if full repayment is made after 90 days, the remainder of the suspension would be stayed.

  • If repayment was made after 90 days but within one year, the remaining time would be stayed.
  • But if full repayment is not complete after one year, Borich will have to undergo a reinstatement hearing before he can practice law again.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com