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Lawyer challenges employment agreement

Richard Mulholland & Associates, the Tampa-based personal injury law firm, found itself at the more unfamiliar end of a lawsuit filed last week in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

In a declaratory judgment claim, a former Mulholland lawyer seeks freedom from an employment agreement he signed with Mulholland in 1990.

Joseph L. Rouselle argues that the "punitive and capricious" liquidated damages he would pay for representing former Mulholland clients restricts his right to practice law and has a chilling effect on clients' abilities to choose an attorney. He asks that the contract be declared void for being against public policy.

Rouselle's employment agreement, Exhibit A to the lawsuit, reveals a few interesting details about life inside the Mulholland litigation machine.

For instance, though he had only been admitted to the Florida Bar one year, Rouselle got a salary of $65,000 in 1990, a rate well above that paid by the large corporate firms in Tampa to their first-year associates.

But then again, big firms only expect 60- or 70-hour work weeks. At Mulholland & Associates, "Employee shall devote his entire time and attention to Employer's business," according to Rouselle's contract.

The thing that bothers Rouselle, however, is the penalties he would owe Mulholland for disclosing information about the firm's current or prospective clients. That would cost Rouselle $250,000, according to the contract, not to mention any other damages Mulholland could win in a lawsuit against Rouselle.

If Mulholland clients chose to go with Rouselle, the firm would still be entitled to 33 percent of any fees Rouselle collected from them.

If Rouselle tried to inform clients himself that he had left Mulholland, rather than via a statement written with Mulholland, it would be worth $250,000 in liquidated damages.

Same if Rouselle tried to take or copy any client information.

If Rouselle were to refer any client to a lawyer outside the firm, for any reason, without Mulholland's prior written approval, it would cost him $350,000. Soliciting any Mulholland client after leaving the firm also would cost Rouselle $350,000, according to the employment contract.

Rouselle declined to discuss the lawsuit last week.

Mulholland was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment, his secretary said.

If you're a serious financial investor, here's a chance to sit in a detailed primer about retail securities. It's put on by lawyers for lawyers, but is being opened to the public in an effort to improve bar/public relations.

Largo securities arbitration lawyers Allan and Franell Fedor plan to stress "what to watch out for in the complex world of retail investment products being sold by stockbrokers, financial planners, insurance salesmen and bankers."

They'll warn about unregistered investment advisers, how to check the "rap sheet" of registered brokers, mutual fund switching and the "pyramid of temptation."

Topics will include an overview of the laws and agencies that govern securities transactions, like the Securities Exchange Commission and the National Association of Securities Dealers.

The Fedors also will discuss the forums and procedures for settling disputes, important case law, and typical violations of securities sales rules. The seminar will conclude with questions and answers from a securities lawyer's viewpoint.

The seminar will run from 1:30 to 5:20 p.m. at Bon Appetit restaurant, 148 Marina Plaza, Dunedin. Non-lawyers can attend for a discounted rate of $30. Call the Clearwater Bar Association at 461-4869 by Tuesday to make reservations.