Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Interest accrues on an award of attorney fees as of the time the award is made, not as of entry of judgment in the case, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday.
The opinion by Justice Dorothy Kim, which was not certified for publication, affirms an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Randolph M. Hammock.
The time of accrual was of significance to the parties inasmuch as the fees were ordered 3˝ years after the judgment was entered, which occurred on Justice Aug. 17, 2015. The judge then handling the case, Debre K. Weintraub (now retired) awarded no fees.
Following a remand from the Court of Appeal, further proceedings were held, and Hammock on Feb. 21, 2019, ordered fees in favor of Liberal Arts in the amount of $225,000 for fees accrued prior to judgment and $55,000 for services on appeal. Liberal Arts insisted that interest should be paid as of the 2015 judgment; AAWestwood argued that interest should kick in as of Hammock’s award of fees, with Hammock agreeing with AAWestwood.
So did the Court of Appeal. Kim wrote:
“Here, the trial court initially concluded that at the time of judgment, August 17, 2015, Liberal Arts was not entitled to recover any fees. The determination of Liberal Arts’s right to attorney fees did not occur until February 21, 2019. Accordingly, the court did not err when it concluded that interest on the attorney fees award accrued from February 21, 2019, rather than the earlier date of August 17, 2015.”
Kim’s opinion was the third one in the case, which involved a dispute over title to six parking spaces in Westwood..
Weintraub had exercised her discretion under Code of Civil Procedure §1032(a)(4)—which says that where there are mixed results, the court “may allow costs or not”—and awarded costs to neither party. That, she concluded, necessitated no award of attorney fees.
On May 23, 2018, Div. Five reversed, in an opinion by then-Orange Superior Court Judge Kim Dunning (now retired), who was sitting on assignment. Where one or more of the causes of action is based bon contract, it held, a trial judge’s determination under §1032(a)(4) not to award costs does not relieve that judge of the duty to decide if attorney fees are awardable pursuant to Civil Code §1717 “on the contract.” It remanded for the court to make a determination as to the award of attorney fees.
The case went back to Weintraub who bounced it to Hammock, who now sat in the department to which she had previously been assigned, and he made the determination in favor of Liberal Arts.
In a Nov. 13, 2020 unpublished opinion, Kim wrote for Div. Five in rejecting AAWestwood’s contention that on remand, only Weintraub could rule on the attorney-fee award. Kim explained:
“[O]ur remand was for the trial court to exercise its discretion pursuant to Civil Code section 1717 in the first instance, not for any particular judge to explain his or her ‘intention.’ ”
In yesterday’s opinion, Kim noted that where a judgment is reversed and there is a remand, interest will accrue as entry of the new judgment. Liberal Arts contended that in AAWestwood I decided in 2018, there was a modification, not a reversal, so that interest is due as of Aug. 17, 2015.
“In AAWestwood 7,” Kim said, “we did not modify the August 17, 2015, judgment, but instead reversed the trial court’s ruling denying attorney fees and directed the court to make a further finding as to whether Liberal Arts prevailed on the contract such that it was entitled to attorney fees under Civil Code section 1717.”
Yesterday’s decision came in AAWestwood v. Liberal Arts 677 Benevolent Foundation, B302363.
West Los Angeles attorney Lawrence M. Lebowsky represented Liberal Arts and Brian D. Boydston of the Westwood firm of Pick & Boydston acted for AAWestwood.
As of yesterday, with Hammock being affirmed by Div. Five in AAWestwood and in another opinion by Kim in an unrelated case, the judge has 22 affirmances this calendar year, two reversals, and one decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part.
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