Thursday, September 5, 2019
Court of Appeal:
Plaintiff Can’t Waive Portion of Judgment Earned by Lawyer As Contingency Fee
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A law firm that secured a judgment for its client against her former employer cannot be cheated out of its contingency fee through the client forgiving the defendant’s debt, the Court of Appeal for this district declared yesterday.
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert wrote the opinion which affirms a $409,351.81 judgment in favor of the Sherman Oaks law firm of Mancini & Associates.
That firm had obtained a judgment for its client, Gina Rodriguez, against her former employer, Jason Schwetz; while collection efforts, instigated by the Mancini firm, were underway, Rodriguez resumed a social relationship with Schwetz; for no consideration, she signed a document releasing him “from all judgments, fees, costs, claims, damages, demands, and causes of action, known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, arising out of the Action.”
Mancini sued Schwetz, obtaining a judgment based on interference with contract and economic advantage.
“Of course, on occasion, a client may not fully appreciate the excellent result achieved by her or his attorney. Such an occasion provides the background from which this case arises.
“An attorney successfully prosecutes an action resulting in a substantial jury verdict in favor of his client. The retainer agreement between the attorney and his client provides that the attorney receive a percentage of the recovery and costs should his client prevail.
“Thereafter, the client, without the attorney’s knowledge or consent, releases the defendant from the pending judgment, including attorney fees and costs.
“Does this release preclude the attorney from pursuing his costs and fees from the defendant? Of course not.”
Schwetz contended on appeal that the judgment was founded on communications which are protected by the litigation privilege. Gilbert responded:
“Here, although Schwetz’s act of executing the Memorandum was communicative, it was but one act in a course of tortious conduct to deprive Mancini of its attorney fees….Schwetz’s noncommunicative conduct was not protected by the litigation privilege. A third party who impairs an attorney’s rights pursuant to a contractual lien may be subject to liability for tortious interference with contractual relations or prospective economic advantage.”
The case is Mancini & Associates v. Schwetz, 2019 S.O.S. 2440.
Mancini was represented on appeal by a senior associate in the firm, Tara J. Licata. Oxnard lawyer Greg May acted for Schwetz.
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