Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nemecek & Cole v. Horn (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 15, 2012)

Ouch.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Encino attorney Steven J. Horn gets retained to represent a husband and wife in a lot line dispute with their neighbors.  Simple little lawsuit.  Some fees, but nothing earth-shattering.  Not going to put your kids through college or anything like that.

Horn (and his clients lose).  Happens sometimes.

The clients hire a new attorney to represent them on appeal.  Again, stuff like that happens.  Sometimes the clients want a fresh view.  No biggie.  No more fees.

But then the clients obtain a reversal on appeal.  Which is nice.  Except the clients blame Horn for losing the case below.

Meanwhile, Horn's miffed that the clients haven't paid all his bills.  So he sues 'em for the $44,000 they still owe.

The clients respond as you might expect.  They counterclaim, alleging that Horn improperly billed them, misrepresented his experience in real estate matters and failed to timely tender the underlying case to their homeowners insurance company.

The parties can't (or won't) settle.  The case goes to trial.  The jury awards Horn his $44,000 in fees.  But they also award the clients an equal amount on their fraud claims against Horn.

So if you're Horn, you're miffed.  You're out your fees.  You've got a finding of fraud against you.  You're out the time (and money) you spent prosecuting your fee dispute.  Not good.

But you'll live.

But the clients then appeal, claiming that they were entitled to attorney's fees.  And they win.  On remand, the trial court orders Horn to pay $380,000.  Horn ends up settling by paying the clients $250,000.

Now, if you're Horn, you're hurting.  You're out your fees.  You're out what you shelled out to your attorneys.  And you're out another quarter million.  Ouch.

But the pain's not over.

Horn becomes convinced that the reason he lost is because his lawyer was terrible.  So he files a claim against his attorney, who then promptly counterclaims for unpaid fees.

Shades of the underlying lawsuit, eh?

But this one gets arbitrated by JAMS, as required by the retainer agreement.  The parties select Judge Schiavelli to arbitrate the thing.  Retired district court judge.  Good call for both sides, most would say.

The arbitration lasts five days.  Schiavelli finds that Horn lacks credibility, but orders that both sides take nothing.  He nonetheless invites either party to move for fees if they want.  Both do.  At which point, the arbitrator awards Horn's lawyer . . . over a quarter million dollars in costs and fees.

Deja vu.  All over again.

Horn hires a private investigator, claims that Schiavelli had undisclosed conflicts in an attempt to vacate the arbitrator's judgment, and loses in the trial court.  Horn appeals.

And loses in the Court of Appeal.  Which ends the opinion by awarding . . . wait for it . . . costs to Horn's lawyer.

Ouch.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.