Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Family Must Pay School District’s Attorney Fees—Appeals Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A family unsuccessfully claiming certain education-related costs were improper must pay the resulting attorney’s fees of the school district, the Court of Appeal for this district has held, because the fees were reasonable and the family otherwise waived its right to contest them.
The opinion, by Justice Laurie Zelon of Division Seven, was filed Monday and not certified for publication. It affirms $644,037 in attorney’s fees awarded by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven Kleifield in 2015.
The case began in 2004, when Carlos Garau sued the Torrance Unified School District on behalf of himself and his two daughters who were students in the district.
The family lost at trial. The district was awarded attorney fees and costs.
Since then, there have been multiple appellate proceedings.
The first appeal reversed the sanctions and attorney’s fees awards, and ordered the trial court to reconsider the amount of the attorney fees, taking into account the family’s financial circumstances. Otherwise, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
While the trial court initially allowed Garau’s informal request that financial information be under seal, it found that to be not compliant with California Rules of Court, rule 2.551, which requires a motion to seal records. The documents were returned to Garau, who did not make any further filings.
As a result, the court determined the district’s fees were reasonable.
Garau sought a new trial and to vacate the judgment. Both motions were denied and appeals were filed challenging those rulings, as well as the attorney fee award.
Motions Held Improper
The appellate court held the new trial motion was improper, because the matters in the motion had already been resolved in the prior appeal, which was final. Zelon said:
“The trial court may not reexamine issues determined by the Court of Appeal.”
For the same reason, Garau’s motion to vacate was improper, she declared.
The appellate court reviewed the trial court’s award of attorney fees, based on the lodestar method (reasonable hours expended times reasonable hourly rate), and found no abuse of discretion. It also found Garau failed to protest the lodestar.
Rather, Garau only challenged the legal basis for a fee award, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in awarding any amount other than zero.
The court disagreed, finding Garau failed to cite any authority or evidence other than related to issues decided in the prior appeal. Zelon went on to say:
“Having failed to provide either factual or legal support for this claim either to the trial court or to this court, they have forfeited it.”
No Sealing Motion
The Garau family complained that they were not permitted to present financial condition documentation under seal. However, the appellate court found the family failed to present evidence permitting consideration of their financial condition, because they never filed a motion to seal records.
The case is Garau v. Torrance Unified School District, B268172 and B268884.
Olga Garau represented Garau and Amy Hoyt of Burke, Williams & Sorensen acted for the school district.
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