Friday, March 18, 2011
ADDA Hit With $100,000 Fee Award in Suit by Dissident Member
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant yesterday struck a financial blow to the Association of Deputy District Attorneys by awarding over $100,000 in attorney fees incurred by a local prosecutor in defending a judgment that the union had violated the Corporations Code and its own bylaws.
“It’s a lot of money to your client,” Chalfant said to Encino attorney Helen Schwab, who entered a special appearance on behalf of the ADDA, “but it’s about right for an appeal.”
The judge noted the ADDA had collected approximately $20,000 a month in dues, over a two year period, while the case was pending but introduced “no evidence of what’s been done with that money.”Such a “relatively weak”showing, Chalfant said, was “not good enough to affect the lodestar.”
He found $101,625 to be reasonable compensation for the work performed by Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney Peter Burke’s lawyer. But he declined to apply a multiplier, since Christopher W. Katzenbach of Katzenbach and Khitkian, had not taken the case on contingency and because the union possessed “limited financial resources” with which to pay the award.
“I wholly understand that this is hard on the union,” Chalfant said to Schwab, but chided, “you didn’t have to appeal if you wanted to conserve resources.”
After the hearing, Schwab said she had been hoping Chalfant would agree to reduce the fee award, but shrugged and said, “you do the best you can.”
Katzenbach remarked that “I don’t feel good about taking money from the ADDA,” but “I deserve to be paid.”
Burke agreed that his attorney “should be paid for the work he’s done,” since the union “paid their attorneys throughout all this.”
The prosecutor, who was a member of the union, had sued the ADDA asserting the group’s failure to hold annual elections, and the procedures by which its bylaws were amended in 2008, had been improper.
Chalfant issued a writ of mandate ordering the union to hold an election for its board and declaring the amended bylaws were invalid. This district’s Court of Appeal, Div. One, affirmed his decision last October.
He said yesterday the lawsuit was about protecting his First Amendment rights, but ADDA President Hyatt Seligman insisted “it was an attempt to destroy us” and curry favor with District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Cooley and the union have a contentious history, and the county’s Employee Relations Commission issued findings last month that the district attorney has engaged in retaliatory actions against ADDA members and supporters.
A lawsuit by one unnamed ADDA member and the union against Cooley and several senior officials is also pending before U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II of the Central District of California.
Wright in January certified a class of prosecutors who allegedly suffered violations of their privacy rights and discrimination after their desire to unionize was disclosed to Cooley’s senior management by Burke.
Seligman had submitted an affidavit containing his allegations in opposing Burke’s request for attorney fees, but Chalfant said he could not consider the document since it was not properly before him.
The ADDA’s leader said he was “extremely disappointed” with Chalfant’s ruling yesterday, but vowed: “We’ll overcome this, no matter what happens to our finances.”
He said the union will “have to seek an alternative remedy,” but declined to elaborate on how that will occur.
This case, Burke v. Ipsen, BS 117425, Seligman said, “is done and over.” The Court of Appeal’s Oct. 29 opinion is reported at 189 Cal.App.4th 801.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company