Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fergus v. Songer (Cal. Ct. App. - May 3, 2007)

Judge Tangeman (up in San Luis Obispo) did the right thing, and granted a new trial on damages when the jury pretty clearly awarded attorney Clark Fergus a $1.2 million contingency fee even though they were expressly instructed that Fergus was only entitled to a reasonable (hourly) fee.

But while he was right on the merits (in my view), he was wrong on procedure, and issued his factual findings supporting the grant of a new trial 15 days after the verdict, rather than within 10 days. And, for entirely that reason, Fergus gets his $1.2 million fee award. So sayeth Justice Yegan.

Admittedly, Justice Yegan also gives Fergus a loss alongside his victory, as Justice Yegan compel Fergus to confronts continued causes of action for malpractice on remand. But Justice Yegan simultaneously caps the exposure to those claims at $1.2 million. So the worst that Fergus can do is a wash.

Interesting case. And ample reason for lawyers to remind judge that they not only have to do the required work (e.g., make findings), but also that they gotta do the work on time. Otherwise, as here, it's often all for naught.

Consider that the lesson of the day.