Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Christian Research Inst. v. Alnor (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 13, 2008)

Imagine that you're a lawyer with, say, Ross Dixon & Bell. Hypothetically, of course, say you're Kevin Kieffer,
Becki Kieffer, Jennifer Mathis, Jenece Solomon, or Michael Gower (full disclosure: Mike's a former student of mine). Or say you're Peter Eliasberg, who's with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. You worked on a long, hard-fought SLAPP, in which you filed and won on appeal (in a divided vote) an anti-SLAPP motion against the plaintiff. You've now moved for an award of your attorney's fees. You ask for a quarter million dollars. You're feeling pretty good, eh?

Then two things happen. (1) The trial court denies your motion. Awarding you less than $25,000 -- in other words, less than 10% of what you ask for. Ouch.

But wait. There's more. You appeal. At which point (2) the Court of Appeal not only affirms, but includes a wide variety of things in the opinion that you'd probably prefer not to be written for posterity. Including but by no means limited to the following bot mots:

"The record suggests Alnor sought to transfer to the opposing parties the cost of every minute counsel expended on the case, whether or not anti-SLAPP work was involved. The fee request included, for example, billings for obtaining the docket at the inception of the case, obtaining unspecified but “numerous court documents,” and attending the trial court’s mandatory case management conference — all of which would have been incurred whether or not Alnor filed the motion to strike. Indeed, counsel even sought reimbursement for drafting the client retention agreement, which does not appear to have been limited to anti-SLAPP measures given the hours counsel billed for other work. Counsel’s willingness to flout the statutory restriction on the scope of anti-SLAPP fee claims justified the trial court in taking a jaundiced view of the fee request."

Or this one: "Faced with a motion that involved little or no time spent on discovery, the trial court was justifiably puzzled at the size of the fee request. The trial court observed the matter was not particularly complicated for an anti-SLAPP motion, and nothing in counsel’s billing submission establishes otherwise. The attorneys’ legal research entries do not suggest the pertinent issues were difficult, since counsel spent almost as much time on mundane research concerning page-limit extensions and whether the trial court had discretion to delay the motion hearing beyond 30 days as on any particular substantive question. Indeed, the five attorneys Alnor deployed on the motion appear to have expended more time telephoning, conferencing, and e-mailing each other than on identifiable legal research for the motion, supporting the trial court’s conclusion the matter was overstaffed. In sum, based on the trial court’s own observations in managing the proceedings up to the hearing and on the billing record eventually submitted, the court could reasonably determine counsel’s fee request was unreasonably padded, vague, and worthy of little credence."

Or this last entry: "Given that precedent so amply established the controlling issue, the trial court was entitled to note, in assessing the reasonableness of more than 400 hours counsel logged on appeal, that counsel failed to uncover or cite the seminal cases applying the dispositive standard. . . . The trial court could reasonably conclude the inflated, noncredible, often vaguely documented hours claimed by counsel precluded turning Alnor’s contingent fee arrangement with counsel into a windfall."

I can't imagine that the attorneys here did anything other than cringe at every successive paragraph they read.