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PEYTON v. MARGIOTTI (12/30/59)

December 30, 1959

PEYTON
v.
MARGIOTTI, APPELLANT.



Appeals, Nos. 159 and 166, March T., 1959, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1957, No. 2026, in case of Thomas J. Peyton et ux. v. Denise Z. Margiotti, executrix of the estate of Charles J. Margiotti, deceased. Judgment, as modified, affirmed. Assumpsit. Before BROWN, J. Verdict entered for plaintiff; defendant's motions for judgment n.o.v. and for new trial dismissed, and judgment entered on the verdict. Defendant appealed.

COUNSEL

Samuel L. Goldstein, with him Alexander L. Suto, and Suto, Power, Goldstein & Walsh, for appellant.

J.I. Simon, with him James A. Danahey, for appellees.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Mcbride, JJ.

Author: Bok

[ 398 Pa. Page 88]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BOK

In 1947 Charles J. Margiotti, Esquire, defended Charles Peyton against a charge of felonious homicide. The result was a conviction of murder in the second degree, which, with a recommendation of mercy, led Chiel Justice MAXEY to remark at the end of his opinion of affirmance, at 360 Pa. 441 (1948), that Peyton's escape from a worse fate "cannot be attributed to any weakness in the Commonwealth's case." The ensuing sentence was from ten to twenty years in the penitentiary.

For his services Margiotti received $13,580, including a payment of $5000 which is the subject of the instant stant suit, and spent $4209 in costs.

In 1954 Peyton's brother Edward read in the paper that the Pardon Board had agreed to release Charles. On September 27th he met his nephew, the plaintiff, who had a certified check from his savings and loan association for $5000, and together they went to Margiotti's office. Edward Peyton's name is on the back of the check, together with that of plaintiff's counsel, because Margiotti refused to take the check, even in escrow, and plaintiff had to go out and, with proper identification, have it cashed. The money was then given to Margiotti, who agreed that Peyton would get it back if his brother was not released from prison by

[ 398 Pa. Page 89]

Christmas. Margiotti took the money, left his office, and shortly after his return a girl came in with a receipt reading: "Received of Thomas Peyton $5000., acct. Services trial and Pardon Board Com. v. Peyton." It was signed with Margiotti's firm name, by Florinda R. Sirianni, bookkeeper, and handed to Thomas Peyton.

Margiotti had successfully argued the case before the Pardon Board, and all that stood between Charles Peyton and freedom was the Governor's signature. The Governot, however, withheld it and Peyton remained in prison not only over Christmas but for some time thereafter. In 1955 th family both wrote and visited Margiotti and demanded return of the money according to the oral contract, since their father had not been released by Christmas, but were refused. Margiotti died in 1956 and plaintiffs brought suit against his Estate. The jury found in their favor for the full amount and interest. The defense was that Margiotti had been underpaid and that the $5000 was an unequivocal fee.

Defendant's main point is that the contract was contingent and against public policy. We agree that it was, since it was more than a straight bargain for hiring a lawyer to make an argument. Although raised first before the court en banc below, this question must be considered whether raised then or now: Waychoff v. Waychoff, 309 Pa. 300 (1932), 163 A. 670.

Contingent fees, whether in civil or criminal cases, are a special concern of the law. A proper fee in a civil suit, where the client is not taken advantage of, is valid: Klauder v. Cregar, 327 Pa. 1 (1937), 192 A. 667. Such fee contracts are specially dealt with in Procedural Rule 202 and must be in writing, duplicate, and kept for two years, subject to inspection. And the ...


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