CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Category: Fee Dispute

Central District Strikes Opposition Filed by Terminated Former Co-Counsel in Putative Class Action

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In the latest round of an apparent falling out between law firms, the Central District of California struck a terminated firm’s  request to strike the notice of its termination, and considered but did not rule on the remaining firm’s alleged ethics violations.  Yumul v. Smart Balance, Inc., No. CV 10-00927 MMM (AJWx), 2010 WL 4352723 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 8, 2010).

Background

Plaintiff Rebecca Yumul filed a notice of termination of counsel, terminating Beck & Lee Business Trial Lawyers (“Beck & Lee”) as her counsel.  Id. *1. The notice was filed by Beck & Lee’s former co-counsel, the Weston firm (“Weston”), which continues to represent Yumul.  Id. Beck & Lee filed a pleading requesting that the court strike the notice of termination, alleging ethical violations by the Weston, and seeking Weston’s disqualification. Id. Beck & Lee asserts that Weston has filed a suit in the Southern District of California to determine the validity of the Joint Prosecution Agreement (“JPA”) that governed Beck & Lee’s co-counsel relationship with Weston in this and other class actions. Id. Yumul filed an ex parte application to strike Beck & Lee’s filings. Id.

Motion to Strike Terminated Counsel’s Opposition

The court granted plaintiff’s motion to strike Beck & Lee’s opposition to the notice of termination on the grounds that it interferes with her absolute right to discharge her attorney.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

Second District Finds Actual Controversy in Declaratory Judgment Action Between Two Former Co-Counsel Relating to Distribution of Attorneys Fees

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In a dispute over the distribution of attorneys fees between two former co-counsel in a class action lawsuit, the Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed a trial court’s denial of relief in a declaratory action.  Leonard Carder, LLP v. Patten, Faith & Sandford, No. B221940, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2010 WL 3961275 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. Oct. 12, 2010).

Plaintiff and appellant Leonard Carder, LLP filed a declaratory relief action against his former co-counsel Patten, Faith & Sandford (Patten) regarding the distribution of attorney fees awarded in a stipulated judgment in a class action lawsuit.  Id. *1.  The trial court entered a judgment denying all relief to Leonard Carder on the basis the complaint did not present a case or controversy and that jurisdiction had been reserved with the judge who approved the class action settlement.  Id. The Second District reversed, holding that the complaint did articulate a justiciable case or controversy, and the class action court specifically declined to retain exclusive jurisdiction over the distribution of attorney fees.  Id.

Background

Leonard Carder and Patten were appointed class counsel in an action tried in 2004 before the Honorable Howard J. Schwab, with the bulk of the work on behalf of the plaintiff class performed by Leonard Carder.  Id. The plaintiff class was determined to be entitled to an award of approximately $14.4 million.  A loadstar chart in support of the motion for attorneys fees  showed 11,414 hours worked by Leonard Carder and 673 by Patten.  Id. The loadstar chart justified total fees of $10,879,272 for Leonard Carder and $373,040 for Patten.  Id. Judge Highberger signed the parties’ stipulation to reasonable attorney fees and costs in the total amount of $12,475,000 to be paid within 45 days to Leonard Carder “as trustees for distribution to all counsel in accordance with the approved stipulation.” Id. The final provision in the stipulated judgment was that “[t]his court shall retain jurisdiction over the parties to enforce the terms of this Stipulated Judgment.”  Id. *2. Judge Highberger orally stated that if there were unresolved issues regarding distribution of the fees, “you’ll find some other forum to resolve them. They don’t automatically come to me as a matter of exclusive jurisdiction.”  Id. All counsel expressed agreement with the court’s statement regarding exclusive jurisdiction.  Id. Read the rest of this entry »

After a Dispute Among Counsel for a Putative Class Regarding the Sharing of Attorneys Fees, the Northern District Denied a Motion to Terminate Counsel of Record

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The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied plaintiffs’ motion to terminate its counsel of record and appointed a special master in Red v. Unilever PLC, No. C 10-00387 JW, 2010 WL 3629689 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 14, 2010).  Certain plaintiffs in a class action filed a notice of termination of Beck & Lee and Reese Richman LLP as counsel.  Id. *1.

Background

Plaintiffs allege in the class action that Defendants engaged in false advertising for the product “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”  Id. Three law firms undertook representation of the named Plaintiffs and the putative class, pursuant to a Joint Prosecution Agreement.  Id. *2.  On August 16, 2010, Mr. Weston, one of Plaintiffs’ attorneys of record, filed a Notice of Termination, effectively moving to terminate the Reese Richman and Beck & Lee firms as co-counsel for Plaintiffs. Id. *1. Two days later, Beck & Lee filed an Opposition to the Notice, charging the Weston Firm with engaging in “a shocking course of unethical and bad faith conduct.” Id. Beck & Lee’s Opposition contended, inter alia, that: Read the rest of this entry »