More powerful than a locomotive. Less powerful than a lawyer?

Speaking of Good Samaritans: On January 2, New Yorker Wesley Autrey jumped off a subway platform in front of an oncoming train to rescue a man who had fallen onto the tracks. After a wave of good publicity, he signed a contract with an attorney, Diane Kleiman, to help him exploit his newfound celebrity.

Now… he’s suing that attorney, claiming that the contract he signed was unfair and asking that the court declare it void:

Autrey, a 50-year-old Bronx construction worker, says in court papers that the contract is “a one-sided agreement” he was induced to sign by “fraud” and that it gives the lion’s share of everything he earns to Kleiman and her business partner, Marco Antonio Esposito, operator of an entertainment production company.


Autrey’s lawsuit, filed Friday, says the contract gives Kleiman and Esposito exclusive rights to exploit his name and reputation and gives them ownership of intellectual property rights to his story.

The contract also gives Kleiman and Esposito the right to receive all gross receipts from commercial exploitation of Autrey’s name and to keep half those receipts, whether or not they helped generate the money, court papers say.

Whether the contract is fair or not, I can’t say; Autrey claiming he signed it without reading it certainly doesn’t win him any sympathy points with me.

Normally, a lawyer fired by a former client will simply express disappointment that the relationship did not work out. But Kleiman decided to take a more aggressive approach:

Diane Kleiman […] said the construction worker must not have been thinking straight when he saved a stranger while his daughters stood on the platform.

“Some people call it heroic, but in some sense, it is stupid,” she said. “Quite frankly, he should have been more worried about his little kids.”

Just to ensure that nobody would ever save her if she fell in front of a subway car, she added, “He’s a 50-year-old guy with three kids who owes tens of thousands of dollars and doesn’t pay his bills,” and, “There is nothing incredible about Wesley Autrey.”


  • Hrmm… this is a trickey one, but Kleiman is a real piece of work. She apparently tried to hit up an elementary school for ‘speaking fees’ where Autrey was set to appear (Autrey claims that Kleiman made the demands without his knowledge, and Kleiman does not appear to dispute this)

  • Dumb question: what’s the status of his claim if the contract both took advantage of him and he did not read it before signing (don’t know squat about contract law)? I’m curious because some people who were complaining about the whole subprime lending situation claimed that a contract is void if you don’t make sure the other party understands everything in it before they sign, even if you don’t lie or mislead them. Is there really such a duty?

  • A construction worker signed a contract a few weeks after getting hit on the back of the head by a subway train. The construction worker claims that he never read the contract. Oh, and the contract was written by his lawyer, and it assigns half of his most important asset over to the lawyer for what seems like minimal consideration.

    It’s at least plausible that there was no meeting of the minds here.

  • Generally speaking, it is no defense to say that you didn’t read a contract– if you signed it, you agreed to it.

    But there are special ethical rules when a lawyer signs a contract with his own client. If the contract is too one-sided, it may be set aside, not because the client didn’t read it, but because it is unethical for a lawyer to take advantage of a client.

  • Well said, Elliot.

  • Yeah, Elliot’s point makes sense: legalese can be made hard to understand, so who would you ask for help to understand it? Your lawyer! If the lawyer is also the one who made the contract, I think I could see a SLIGHT conflict of interest, there…

  • The relevant provision of the New York Code of Professional responsibility is:

    DR 5-104 [1200.23] Transactions Between Lawyer and Client.

    A. A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client if they have differing interests therein and if the client expects the lawyer to exercise professional judgment therein for the protection of the client, unless:

    1. The transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing to the client in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client;

    2. The lawyer advises the client to seek the advice of independent counsel in the transaction; and

    3. The client consents in writing, after full disclosure, to the terms of the transaction and to the lawyer’s inherent conflict of interest in the transaction.

    B. Prior to conclusion of all aspects of the matter giving rise to employment, a lawyer shall not negotiate or enter into any arrangement or understanding:

    1. With a client or a prospective client by which the lawyer acquires an interest in literary or media rights with respect to the subject matter of the employment or proposed employment.

    2. With any person by which the lawyer transfers or assigns any interest in literary or media rights with respect to the subject matter of employment by a client or prospective client.

  • Wow – if Elliot’s post is correct, then the case seems fairly straight forward and clearly in the right.

    “Kleiman is a real piece of work.”

    I’ll second that one.