KC couple shocked when attorney drops their case, sends bill for work he won’t prove he did

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Attorneys are expensive. So when Frank Morales and Lisa Ralston hired one to handle an adoption, they expected something in return.

But they said they got nothing -- just a bill.

"Like I told the paralegal, I gave this man my dream, and he just threw it out the window like it was trash," Ralston said.

Ralston and Morales hired attorney Paul Franco on July 8. By July 11, they'd already paid Franco $1,200 for what was expected to be a $2,500 bill.

As the end of July rolled around, the couple stopped by Franco's Independence Avenue office to make another payment and inquire how their case was progressing.

But the clerk in the office told them Franco was no longer representing them.

"The lady was like, 'Oh, I sent you an email,'" Ralston recalled. "I was like, 'What email? I didn't get anything.'"

She was then handed a letter signed by Franco firing them as clients, telling them, "My desire to help overcomes my reality."

But then came the real shocker.

Franco stated in the letter that he was keeping $895 of of the $1,200 they'd given him, claiming he had done 3.5 hours of work at a rate of $250 an hour.

Although there's nothing wrong with an attorney firing a client and charging them for work preformed, what is unusual is this couple had no idea what work Franco did for them.

When they asked Franco for the case file, Morales said he heard Franco tell his paralegal, "I'm not giving them s**t."

"I think this is very problematic," said University of Kansas Law Professor Suzanne Valdez who teaches professional ethics at KU Law School.

FOX4 showed Valdez the letter Ralston and Morales had received from Franco explaining that he was firing them, but keeping the lion's share of the money.

"This is him just telling the client, 'This is what I've earned, and I'm keeping it without any further explanation or detail,'" Valdez said.

She said it's ridiculous to keep a client's money if you can't even produce a file to show you've done work.

She said, without a file, Franco could have trouble defending his fee to the Disciplinary Office of the Missouri Supreme Court if a complaint were filed against him.

This isn't the first time Franco's legal practice has come under attack.

In 2012, he was suspended for six months after complaints were made that Franco was doing a poor job representing his client. He's also been admonished four times by the Missouri Supreme Court for everything from mishandling client funds to practicing without a license.

FOX4 Problem Solvers paid a visit to Franco's office to get his side of this story. He declined to talk to us and said if his now former clients were unhappy with his services, they could always file a formal complaint against him.

They already have. They've also hired a new attorney.

But their relationship with Franco apparently isn't over. Just this week they received a letter from Franco thanking them for being his clients and asking for $795, claiming their adoption case was now closed and that was the remainder of their bill.

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