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In a civil lawsuit, can I garnish the trust account of defendants' lawyer?

Orlando, FL |

I am plaintiff in civil litigation. I already have a final executable judgment in a related case against one of the defendants in this current litigation. Defendants are obviously depositing money into their lawyer's trust account to pay him in the current litigation. The defendants are husband and wife, and I don't have a judgment against the husband (yet), only the wife.
1. Can I garnish that account to seize some of that money?
2. What if the husband is paying legal expenses of both himself and his wife?
3. What if the husband is nominally the beneficiary of the trust account, but the account is being used to fund the legal expenses of both of them?

Attorney Answers 5

  1. You cannot garnish a lawyer's trust account.

    Advice on this forum is for informational purposes only and should never be mistaken as a substitute for legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice, you should consult local legal counsel.

  2. In Missouri Eastern District, I opine that a trust account for a lawyer can be garnished for all funds held for a judgment creditor, but not yet earned by the lawyer.

  3. I never really thought about this. I guess it would depend on state law. Technically, the trust account is money owned by the client, so I don't see why it would be protected from a garnishment. Once it is earned, it belongs to the attorney and should be promptly removed.

    I would like to see some authority from anyone who says otherwise.

    Mr. Goldstein is a Virginia-licensed attorney only. The information is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. Answering this question does not in any way constitute legal representation. Contacting Mitchell Goldstein or the Goldstein Law Group does not constitute legal representation, nor is any information you provide protected by attorney-client privilege until otherwise advised.

  4. The answer is probably yes, because the money in the trust account belongs to the client. However, having said that, the attorney has a claim against it for any unpaid fees.

    If their is more than one client, this obviously clouds the issue even further... In Florida a regular bank account that is jointly held between husband and wife, as tenants by the entireties, is a defense to garnishment for a judgment that is against only one of them.

    I am an attorney who is only licensed in the State of Florida. My answer is general legal advice based upon what I perceive your question to be, and should not be relied upon because every person's facts and circumstances are unique, and because specific laws vary from state to state. To completely evaluate a legal issue requires reviewing and evaluating all relevant facts, applicable laws and other information. My answer does not create an attorney-client relationship, and offered for informational purposes only.

  5. Yes with a proper writ of garnishment, a lawyer's trust account, for a specific defendant can garnished, however, if the trust account is held for both husband and wife, and your writ is only for the Wife, this would be a defense, as the Husband has an interest in the account and he is not a party to the action, therefore no asset that is owed by a third party may be garnished. Right now anything that is jointly owed by the Wife and Husband is exempt from a writ of garnishment or levy.