Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nichols v. City of Taft (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 2, 2007)

Here's another big firm -- this time, Morrison & Foerster -- taking on pro bono-ish representation of a plaintiff and then requesting a hefty award of attorney's fees.

MoFo, and it's high-profile partner Arturo Gonzalez -- represented a dispatcher for the City of Taft Police Department who alleged that she was sexually harassed. The parties agreed to a $175,000 settlement plus attorney's fees to be determined by the court. MoFo subsequently filed a motion to recover over $500,000 in fees. And delineated precisely how much its attorneys charge, which Justice Kane helpfully publishes for our purient review: Arturo Gonzalez, $550/hour; Eric Tate (a partner), $475/hour; Samantha Goodman (an associate), $415/hour; and then three lower-level associates (Erika Drous, Dara Tabesh, and Steven Tang) at $225-275/hour. (P.S. - I couldn't help but notice both the steep drop-off in rates between first three and the second three lawyers, nor the fact that the three low-priced associates are each graduates of Hastings Law.)

The City of Taft opposes the motion by arguing that the rate for local lawyers in Taft -- population, 6400 -- is, at most, $250/hour for partners and $160/hour for associates. Which I find credible. But MoFo says that the plaintiff tried to find a local lawyer but, oh, shucks, just had to settle for MoFo's lawyers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, so a full fee award at the SF/LA prevailing rates (plus travel time to Tate) is appropriate. Even though the declaration by plaintiff made crystal clear that she made no effort to retain local counsel before, darn it, she decided to go with this crazy out-of-town "MoFo" firm of which no one's ever heard.

The trial court cuts the fee request a tiny bit, and orders a fee recovery of over $470,000. The City of Tate appeals. And wins. Justice Kane holds that there wasn't an adequate showing that justified recovery for out-of-town rates, so remands for a recalculation of the proper award.

Don't cry for MoFo, though. They'll still make a ton. Indeed, much more than their client, the person who was actually (or at least allegedly) sexually harassed.