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Wolfe v. Legg

January 14, 1991

EDWARD R. WOLFE, RESPONDENT,
v.
WILLIAM A. LEGG, APPELLANT



Britt, J.*fn* Webster, A.c.j., and Baker, J., concur.

Author: Britt

Respondent, Edward R. Wolfe, initiated the present action to recover money allegedly owed to him by appellant William A. Legg for services rendered pursuant to an agreement under which Wolfe was to perform accounting services in connection with the marriage dissolution proceedings involving Legg and his now ex-wife. Following a nonjury trial of the matter the trial court entered judgment for Wolfe. Legg has timely brought this appeal.

Legg presents two assignments of error on the basis of which he seeks to have the trial court's judgment reversed. The first assignment asserts that the trial court improperly denied Legg's motion to amend his answer to add a counterclaim 2 weeks prior to the date on which trial commenced. The second assignment asserts error in the trial court's rulings limiting the scope of the testimony to be elicited by Legg's counsel during trial. We affirm.

Facts

As stated, the genesis of this dispute lay in the marriage dissolution proceedings between Legg and his ex-wife which culminated in a decision entered September 23, 1987. Legg is an entrepreneurial businessman who was the sole stockholder in several corporations involved in lumber treating and real estate in Seattle and on the island of Hawaii. Wolfe was the CPA for some of these entities from 1979 to 1985. Legg's apparent net worth at the time of his marriage was approximately $1 million. The chief problem before the dissolution court was the valuation of Legg's net worth at the date of the filing of the marriage dissolution proceedings. In April 1987 Wolfe was hired by Legg to perform expert witness and associated consulting services as an accountant in connection with the marriage dissolution proceedings.

The trial of the dissolution took 35 days, involved 706 exhibits and resulted in over $700,000 in attorney fees and costs. Wolfe prepared exhibits and attended depositions

and gave testimony both at the depositions and at trial. Wolfe billed Legg $60,201 for services rendered in regard to the dissolution. Legg paid $25,760 but refused to make additional payments on the balance due of $34,441.

Wolfe initiated the present action in March 1988. No answer was filed by Legg's first attorney until September 28, 1988. In this answer Legg stated a counterclaim for lumber, materials and appliances earlier furnished to Wolfe. No response was filed to this counterclaim.

In February 1989 this matter went to arbitration after Legg's second attorney had obtained a continuance. Legg appeared pro se at the arbitration hearing and an award was entered in favor of Wolfe. New counsel for Legg filed a request for a trial de novo on March 10, 1989. The matter was set for trial on May 26, 1989.

On April 13, 1989, Legg, again with different counsel, requested a continuance of the trial date. The reason given for seeking the continuance was a desire to explore the possibility of a counterclaim for professional malpractice. The continuance was denied but an order was entered extending discovery through May 15, 1989.

On May 15, 1989, Legg filed a motion to amend his answer to add a counterclaim for professional malpractice allegedly resulting from negligent performance of the duties undertaken by Wolfe in regard to the dissolution proceeding. Wolfe filed a declaration in opposition which included an allegation that he would be substantially prejudiced by the allowance of the counterclaim at this late date. Wolfe supported this allegation with a statement of reasons as to why he would be prejudiced.

The trial court denied the request to add the counterclaim, finding that the motion was not timely. Noting that Legg was now represented by his fourth attorney in the matter, the court stated that the counterclaim was based on facts that were known or could have been discovered if Legg's prior counsel had not unduly ...


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