A Denver civil rights law firm being sued by the mother of Elijah McClain has now countersued, alleging that another Denver law firm reneged on an agreement for how to split the McClain estate’s $15 million settlement.
Sheneen McClain, whose son died at the hands of Aurora police and paramedics in 2019, remains adamant that the law firm she’s suing, Killmer, Lane & Newman, are self-serving opportunists. On Tuesday, she called attorney Mari Newman “scum.”
The countersuit is in response to McClain’s lawsuit May 17 that seeks to block KLN from being paid nearly $4 million, or 40 percent of McClain’s portion of the settlement between Elijah’s estate and Aurora (Elijah’s father also received a portion). KLN says it is actually owed $3.1 million, or 32 percent of McClain’s settlement.
“KLN is entitled to be paid for the expertise and substantial work it devoted to the McClain case,” the firm’s lawyers wrote in the countersuit June 2, “in accordance with the contingent fee agreement signed by Elijah McClain’s parents, the fee-sharing contract entered between Sheneen McClain’s new lawyers and KLN, and Colorado law.”
Those new lawyers are with the Denver law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai, which KLN accuses of breaching an agreement between the two firms to split the 40 percent of McClain’s settlement that was to be paid to lawyers. KLN says RM agreed to split the money 80/20 — 80 percent for KLN, 20 percent for RM.
The countersuit accuses McClain of breaching her contract with KLN by not paying KLN 32 percent of the settlement. “Sheneen McClain has been unjustly enriched by her refusal and failure to pay KLN legal fees or reimburse KLN for her share of the costs advanced,” it states.
KLN was fired by McClain before the $15 million settlement was reached last year. So, the case could hinge on whether a Denver judge finds that Newman and KLN were fired “for cause” — because of mistakes or wrongdoing — or “without cause.” Law firms often must forfeit their right to a settlement when they are fired for cause but not when fired without cause.
“Every client has the right to terminate her lawyers at any time and for any reason or no reason. After KLN had worked on the case for over sixteen months, Sheneen McClain exercised that right without cause and retained a new law firm,” KLN’s countersuit last week stated.
RM defended its actions and McClain’s on Tuesday.
“Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC strives to honor the voices of our clients and to always center representation on them,” RM said in an emailed statement. “Sheneen McClain has a dispute with her previous counsel, and we stand by her decision to have her voice heard.”
McClain doesn’t believe KLN deserves the money. She claims that she fired KLN before the settlement was reached because she was tired of Newman’s self-aggrandizement and believed KLN had a conflict of interest by representing both herself and Elijah’s father, LaWayne Mosley.
“She wanted to make sure that we were in a lot of places where a lot of cameras were, even if it had nothing to do with Elijah. I thought that was opportunistic,” McClain said in a phone interview Tuesday, referring to Newman.
“It has never been something personal for her like it is for me. It has always been about business,” McClain added.
McClain said it’s frustrating to still be dealing with legal matters after the 2021 settlement with Aurora and several years after her son’s death. She was unsparing in her criticisms of Newman, accusing the civil rights attorney of having “no humanity in herself to do the right thing.”
“You’re showing everybody in the whole world that you’re a liar, you have no humanity, and you don’t have any backing behind your word at all,” she said, pretending to speak directly to her former attorney. “You are scum. I will say that to her face.”
KLN said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it has spent decades fighting alongside clients to protect their constitutional rights and civil liberties.
“Our team poured our hearts and souls into seeking justice for the McClain family and helped them achieve the largest civil rights settlement in Colorado history. We stand by our hard work on this case,” the firm said. “The allegations are misleading, and in many cases entirely false. We hope that this does not distract from the important goals of continuing to force change in policing, and criminal accountability for Elijah’s killers.”
KLN has worked on some of Colorado’s most high-profile civil rights and police abuse cases, including those of Marvin Booker, Emily Rice, De’Von Bailey and Michael Marshall.
In an interview Tuesday, Natalia Marshall praised Newman’s work on behalf of her uncle, Michael Marshall, a schizophrenic man who died at Denver’s jail in 2015.
“Without Mari, I probably wouldn’t be able to live,” Natalia Marshall said, citing Newman’s years of friendship and advocacy, all of which helped Marshall emerge from depression.
“Because of her, I have a friend. Because of her, my daughter has a friend. Because of her, laws changed,” Marshall said. Her family reached a $4.7 million settlement with the city that included improved access to mental health care at the jail and de-escalation training for deputies there.
Meanwhile, McClain, who was at a White House event last month with President Joe Biden, said she hasn’t been able to heal due to the intense public interest in her and her son.
“I can only try to accept what happened and move on with the rest of my life the best I can. But it’s kind of hard to do that when every time I turn around, somebody wants this from me because I’m Elijah McClain’s mother, somebody wants this from me because he’s national news,” she said.
“Whenever Elijah’s mentioned and I get to talk about him, I still cry,” she added, her voice cracking. “It doesn’t matter how close I feel I am to him in spirit, I know I’ll never get to hug him again.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the portion of the settlement that KLN says it is owed.