Court of Appeal:
Judge Properly Awards Attorney’s Fees, at Lawyer’s Normal Rates, for Clerical Work
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday that a judge did not abuse his discretion for including in an award of attorney fees recompense, at the lawyer’s usual rate for legal services, for the time he spent in performing clerical tasks.
Justice Halim Dhanidina of Div. Three wrote the opinion which affirms a $84,107.50 award by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern, except for a $552.50 component. Plaintiff Albino Ojeda, who was the prevailing party in his action over Labor Code violations against Michelle and Eric Azulay, had agreed to that amount being remitted but it somehow wasn’t.
The Azulay’s complained that Ojeda should not paid for amounts charged by Encino labor lawyer Seth E. Tillmon, at his regular hourly rate of $425, for performing purely administrative chores. Dhanidina said these tasks included “scanning, printing, and downloading documents; preparing proofs of service; preparing mailings; formatting documents; calendaring dates; and traveling to mailboxes or postal centers to mail documents.”
“As an initial matter, necessary overhead support services that secretaries and paralegals provide to attorneys may be included in an attorney fees award….Therefore, so-called administrative tasks are recoverable in the trial court’s discretion.”
“Although charging for purely clerical tasks at an attorney’s hourly rate is questionable, the trial judge nonetheless was the best judge of the value of the services rendered, and to reverse that judgment we must be convinced it is clearly wrong….Especially in the absence of the reporter’s transcript, which may have shed light on the time spent on so-called administrative tasks, we are reluctant to second guess the trial court.”
He noted that Tillmon is a sole practitioner, without support staff “and had to do everything himself.” The jurist observed:
“His detailed time records largely show that when arguably clerical tasks were combined with clearly legal ones, the total time charged would not have been facially unreasonable for the legal task alone. On February 14, 2018, for example, counsel drafted 15 sets of discovery, printed copies of each, drafted proofs of service, printed mailing labels, and stuffed manila envelopes. To do all this he spent 5.4 hours. Spending that time on drafting discovery alone would be facially reasonable. Further, it is possible that the trial court denied Ojeda’s request for a 1.5 multiplier, which the trial court might have otherwise awarded, as a way of ensuring that Ojeda was not compensated for performing clerical tasks.”
The Azulays also argued that fees amounting to $84,107.50 were impermissibly disproportionate to the $30,929.94 in damages Ojeda obtained.
“Azulay cites no authority for the proposition that a fee award that exceeds the client’s recovery is per se unreasonable or that California imposes a proportionality rule,” Dhanidina responded. The case is Ojeda v. Azulay, B302440. Armen Shaghzo of the Glendale law firm of Shaghzo & Shaghzo represented the Azulays. There was no appearance for Ojeda.
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