Tuesday, May 26, 2015
C.A.: Firm Not Entitled to Arbitration of Malpractice Action
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Agoura Hills law firm of Alessi & Koenig, LLC has lost its bid to force a former client to arbitrate her legal malpractice claim against it.
The law firm has offered no proof that it ever signed the retainer agreement which contained an arbitration clause, Justice Nora Manella said in her opinion for Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal.
“The entire retainer agreement was subject to rescission for failure to comply with Business and Professions Code section 6148, which required appellants to provide respondent with a fully signed copy of the retainer agreement,” she wrote. “Because the evidence in the record showed appellants failed to do so, the entire agreement was voidable, and respondent has elected to void the agreement.”
Sec. 6148 applies, Manella noted, where the cost of legal services exceeds $1,000.
The plaintiff, Aurelia Alexandra Villa, sued the law firm—as well as attorneys Thomas J. Bayard, David A. Alessi, and Robert A. Koenig—for failing in its effort to assist her in retaining her home by getting a loan modification.
Pursuant to Bayard’s advice, she declared bankruptcy. In the course of the proceedings, the trustee in bankruptcy sought disgorgement of some of the fees paid to the law firm, with the firm ultimately agreeing to return $8,000.
Bayard is presently on probation as the result of two State Bar actions against him in 2012, each resulting in two months of actual suspension.
Manella’s opinion, which was filed Thursday and was not certified for publication, affirms a decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis.
Koenig represented the law firm, himself, and his colleagues. Joel M. Pores was Villa’s attorney.
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