South Bay MCLE Series on July 30th – Law Firm Strategy and Planning via Budgeting Jun 26, 2015

In this program, Kurt Obermeyer will walk through the budget process that can work best for your firm and allow you to not only efficiently budget for future income and expenses, but also planning strategies to yield the most successful practice possible. Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 310.540.1505 or emailing mmaloney@maloneyfirm.com.



This presentation has been approved by the State Bar of California for 1.0 hour of MCLE credit.
 
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South Bay MCLE Series on June 23rd – Preparing Ethical Retainer Agreements May 19, 2015

In this complimentary MCLE presentation, Patrick Maloney will address the law applicable to retainer agreements, with a particular emphasis on ensuring that retainer agreements comply with ethical requirements. Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 310.540.1505 or emailing mmaloney@maloneyfirm.com.


This presentation has been approved by the State Bar of California for 1.0 hour of MCLE credit, including 1.0 hour of Legal Ethics.
 
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California Court of Appeal Allows Attorney to Enforce Fee Lien Against Assets Held in Trust May 13, 2015

NOVAK v. FAY: California Court of Appeal Allows Attorney to Enforce Fee Lien Against Assets Held in Trust

By: Carl I. S. Mueller, The Maloney Firm, APC
 

In order to ensure payment for their services, attorneys oftentimes include language in their retainer agreements imposing a lien on the clients prospective recovery. In a recent California Appellate Court decision, Novak v. Fay, Case No. B256889, filed April 28, 2015, the California Court of Appeal upheld an attorney lien that granted a lawyer an interest in a trust established by his client’s deceased spouse.
 

In Novak, attorney Mark Novak represented Douglas Kelly in a probate matter involving the distribution of assets from his late spouse’s trust, the Dana Teitler Trust. Novak’s retainer agreement with Kelly provided for a 40% contingent fee and expansive lien rights in the event of a successful outcome:
 

[Kelly] agrees to pay [Novak] 40% of all recoveries by way of settlement . . . . “Recovery” includes, but is not limited to, all distributions to [Kelly’s wife’s] estate from the [trust], i.e. distribution to which [Kelly] is entitled to 50% as [spouse].
 

It is agreed that [Novak] may retain his share in full out of the amount finally collected by settlement; and it is further agreed that [Novak] shall have all general, possessory, or retaining liens, and all special or charging liens known to common law. [Kelly] expressly assigns to [Novak] to the extent of his fees and disbursements, all assets and sums realized by way of settlement […].

 

In the probate matter, Novak asserted that Kelly was a pretermitted spouse, i.e., that Dana Teitler had failed to provide for him in her trust. Eventually, Novak obtained a favorable settlement for Kelly, by which he obtained an interest in his deceased spouse’s trust. Unfortunately, Kelly passed before he paid Novak the contingent fee that Novak had earned.
 

After Kelly died, Novak filed a petition seeking to enforce his lien rights against the Dana Teitler Trust. Novak asserted he was entitled to 40% of the portion of the trust Kelly received through the settlement.
 

Not surprisingly, the successor trustee, Michael Fay, who was Teitler’s husband from a prior marriage, objected to Novak’s claim. The trial court rejected Novak’s claim, and Novak appealed.
 

The Court of Appeal rejected the Trustee’s argument that Kelly had not realized anything from the trust. It reasoned that Novak’s lien rights were created upon the execution of the agreement, and that those rights extended to “the litigation’s proceeds,” whatever they were. Therefore, “as soon as [Kelly’s] beneficial interest in [the trust] came into being, [Novak’s] lien attached to it.” The Court of Appeal held that the trust was among the assets contemplated by the lien provision in Novak’s retainer agreement. And so, under Section 9391 of the Probate Code, Novak could rightly file an action on the lien against the Dana Teitler Trust.
 

In sum, Novak teaches that attorneys are well advised to include carefully prepared lien language in their retainer agreements. The lien provision should cover any possible circumstance that may arise by way of settlement or other resolution of an action. In Novak’s case, he accomplished this by including language that provided for an assignment of an interest in any assets realized through the representation. Of course, whenever an attorney prepares a fee agreement that includes a lien provision, he should consider whether it is necessary under California Rule of Professional Conduct 3-300 to obtain the client’s informed written consent to the lien provision.
 

The Maloney Firm, APC is a full service law firm based in El Segundo, California. The professionals at The Maloney Firm focus on providing clients with efficient and effective service in business disputes and employment litigation. www.maloneyfirm.com


California Supreme Court Limits Prevailing FEHA Defendants’ Right to Recover Costs May 07, 2015

Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire District: Prevailing FEHA Defendants Are Not Entitled to Recover Costs Unless the Plaintiff’s Claims Are Frivolous

By: Ashley Tate, The Maloney Firm, APC
 

On May 4, 2015, The California Supreme Court held in Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire District, S213100 5/4/15, that a prevailing defendant in a FEHA case should not be awarded litigation costs unless the court finds the action lacked merit. In contrast, prevailing plaintiffs can and ordinarily should receive their costs and attorneys fees. In Williams, the plaintiff Loring Winn Williams sued defendant Chino Valley Independent Fire District for employment discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, “FEHA.” The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant employer, and awarded the defendant its court costs. The plaintiff employee appealed, contending that because plaintiff’s action was not frivolous, unreasonable or groundless, the defendant should not have been awarded its costs.
 

When a defendant in a FEHA case succeeds against a plaintiff’s non-frivolous claims, can the court order the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s costs of the litigation? In short, no.
 

Code of Civil Procedure section 1032 guarantees prevailing parties in civil litigation awards of the costs expended in the litigation, “[e]xcept as otherwise expressly provided by statute.” The costs include filing, motion and jury fees, food and lodging costs for sequestered juries, the costs of taking necessary depositions, costs of service of process, fees of ordinary witnesses and of court ordered experts, the costs of transcripts ordered by the court, attachment expenses and surety bond premiums, fees of court reporters and interpreters, and the costs of exhibits helpful to the trier of fact.
 

The questions in Williams were (1) Is Government Code section 12965(b) an express exception to the general mandate of Code of Civil Procedure section 1032(b) for courts to award fees to prevailing parties? and (2) Is the trial court’s discretion under Section 12965(b) limited when it comes to prevailing defendants? Yes and yes.
 

FEHA provides an exception to the general rule of Section 1032. Government Code section 12965(b) provides for private actions to enforce the provisions of FEHA, and it states in part, “In civil actions brought under this section, the court, in its discretion, may award to the prevailing party, including the department, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, including expert witness fees.” (Emphasis added.)
 

The Supreme Court in Williams determined after a detailed analysis that Government Code section 12965 is in fact an express exception to CCP 1032(b), and it governs costs awards in FEHA actions. This provides the trial court with discretion in making such awards to the prevailing party. But the discretion is much more limited when the prevailing party is the defendant.
 

The Court analyzed legislative history and case law, concluding that the assymmetrical standard set forth in the 1978 case Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC (1978) 434 U.S. 412, applies to discretionary awards of both attorney fees and costs to prevailing FEHA parties. The Court in Christiansburg held that a prevailing defendant receives its attorneys’ fees only if the plaintiff’s action was objectively groundless. Id. The asymmetrical standard set forth in Christiansburg entitles prevailing plaintiffs to attorneys’ fees generally but allows prevailing defendants awards of their attorneys’ fees only when the plaintiffs’ claims were frivolous. Under Williams, the Christiansburg standard applies not only to attorneys’ fees, but also to other litigation costs.
 

In sum, a prevailing plaintiff in a FEHA case will ordinarily be awarded his or her attorneys’ fees and costs, but a prevailing defendant is not entitled to either unless the court finds the plaintiff’s action was frivolous. This is good news for FEHA plaintiffs, and bad news for the defendants.
 

The Maloney Firm, APC is a full service law firm based in El Segundo, California. The professionals at The Maloney Firm focus on providing clients with efficient and effective service in business disputes and employment litigation. www.maloneyfirm.com


Decision on Privilege and Legal Fee Invoices Apr 15, 2015

I Could Have Sworn I Heard That Before: California Court of Appeal Holds That Legal Fee Invoices Are Privileged Communications.

By: Patrick M. Maloney and Carl I. S. Mueller of The Maloney Firm, APC
 

The Second Appellate District recently ruled that legal fee invoices fall within the attorney-client privilege as established in Cal. Evidence Code § 952. When said out loud, it seems obvious. But, according to County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles, case no. B257230, filed April 13, 2015, the question had not previously been resolved. In addressing the issue, the court noted that “while several cases have touched on the fringes of this question, none have squarely decided it.”
 

The case arose from a request under the California Public Records Act, wherein the ACLU attempted to obtain legal fee invoices, among other documents, from the Los Angeles County Board related to nine different lawsuits, “brought by inmates involving alleged jail violence,”. Six of the lawsuits were ongoing. The ACLU wanted to determine whether those lawsuits, defended by private firms on the taxpayers’ dime, were being litigated efficiently. The County Board agreed to produce redacted invoices for the concluded matters, but refused to produce the legal fee invoices for the ongoing disputes. So, the ACLU filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Los Angeles Superior Court to compel the County Board to “disclose the requested records for all nine lawsuits.”
 

In what the appellate court referred to as “a thoughtful decision,” the trial court granted the petition, ordering the County Board to produce the legal fee invoices. In reaching its decision, the trial court cited the County Board’s failure to produce any “actual evidence concerning the contents of the billing statements, including whether they were produced for a litigation related
purpose.”
 

The County Board challenged the trial court’s ruling via a petition for writ of mandate to the appellate court. On appeal, the crux of the legal dispute fell to the following language defining a confidential communication within Evidence Code § 952:
 

Information transmitted between a client and his or her lawyer in the course of that relationship and in confidence […], and includes a legal opinion formed and the advice given by the lawyer in the course of that relationship. (Emphasis added).

 

The ACLU argued the phrase “and legal opinion” required that to qualify as protected, confidential, and privileged, the invoices needed to contain a legal opinion. However, the County Board argued the nature of the confidential communications as between an attorney and client created the privileged status, and the appellate court agreed. The court based this reading on historical context, and reasoned that any other reading created the absurd result of any confidential communication lacking legal opinion losing its privileged status.
 

Overall, the court once again chose to strengthen and uphold the sanctity of statutory privilege, and practitioners now only need to point to this decision when opposing a motion to compel production of legal fee invoices. However, as the appellate court noted, when prosecuting a request for attorneys’ fees, clients may decide to waive the privilege in relation to those legal fee invoices in order to enhance their potential for recovery.
 

The Maloney Firm, APC provides expertise to clients in relation to legal fee disputes and professional malpractice claims on either side of the aisle. Additionally, the professionals at The Maloney Firm, APC focus on providing clients with efficient and effective service in business disputes and employment litigation. www.maloneyfirm.com


South Bay MCLE Series on May 12th – Enforcing Judgments Apr 03, 2015

You won a judgment for your client. Now what? This complimentary MCLE program hosted by The Maloney Firm on May 12th will discuss tools attorneys can use for enforcing a California civil judgment. Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 310.540.1505 or emailing mmaloney@maloneyfirm.com.


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South Bay MCLE Series on April 2nd – Mediation Mar 10, 2015

Two often over-looked, key aspects of the mediation process are selection of the mediator and preparation for the mediation. This complimentary MCLE program sponsored by ADR Services on April 2nd will give practical tips on the key qualities of a mediator to consider in the selection process and the core elements of mediation preparation. Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 310.540.1505 or emailing mmaloney@maloneyfirm.com.


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South Bay MCLE Series on March 18th – TechnoEthics Feb 11, 2015

When does it become your ethical or legal obligation to safeguard information? This complimentary MCLE program on March 18th discusses the security challenges and rewards of various technologies and some best practices for protecting private data in a world of rapidly spreading information technology. Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 310.540.1505 or emailing mmaloney@maloneyfirm.com.


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2015 Super Lawyers Jan 21, 2015

Congratulations to Patrick M. Maloney for being named to the 2015 Southern California Super Lawyers list, an honor bestowed upon only 5% of attorneys. Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.


South Bay MCLE Series on December 11th – Eliminating Bias in Dispute Resolution Dec 01, 2014

This program will explore how bias creeps into dispute resolution using an arbitrator’s comments from a recent hearing. Patrick Maloney and Jayesh Patel will analyze the rules that require lawyers, jurors, arbitrators, and judges to avoid bias in the context of the diverse population of California. Space is limited. Please RSVP by calling 310.540.1505 or emailing mmaloney@maloneyfirm.com.



This presentation has been approved by the State Bar of California for 1.0 hour of MCLE credit, including 1.0 hour of Elimination of Bias.
 
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