He wont release the file to me unless I pay a fee, I thought the file was mine.
The attorney has a legal duty to provide your file to you free of charge no matter what the retainer says. If the attorney wants to copy it is at his own expense. This is a basic rule pursuant to the California Rules of Professional Responsibility that every attorney should know and abide by.
The file is yours and he must release it immediately to you and he cannot charge you for a copy, although he may make a copy for himself at HIS cost. To "hold your file hostage" is a violation of the state Bar rules of professional conduct (Rule 3-700 (D)) which is written as follows:
(D) Papers, Property, and Fees.
A member whose employment has terminated shall:
(1) Subject to any protective order or non-disclosure agreement, promptly release to the client, at the request of the client, all the client papers and property. "Client papers and property" includes correspondence, pleadings, deposition transcripts, exhibits, physical evidence, expert's reports, and other items reasonably necessary to the client's representation, whether the client has paid for them or not;"
You may have already paid him for the cost of it under the "costs" provision of your retainer agreement anyhow. Cite the Rules section to him and you'll get your file today.
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