Court of Appeal:
Attorney Who Wins Fees Can’t Be Liable for Malpractice
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A lawyer who obtained a default judgment against a former client for unpaid fees is impervious to an action by that client for professional malpractice and breach of contract, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday.
Div. Three, in an unpublished opinion by Presiding Justice Lee Edmon, affirmed a judgment on the pleadings granted by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Keosian in favor of attorney Alan Romero and his Pasadena firm, Romero Law, APC.
The lawyer and the law firm had been sued by Hasmik Yaghobyan and her three adult children in connection with representation in an action against the Simi Valley Police Department. However, the law firm had sued Yaghobyan for its fees for those services and on June 8, 2018, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael S. Mink granted a default judgment against Yaghobyan in the amount of Yaghoobi $59,193.60 ($39,2443.66 for fees, $19,245.94 in interest, and $495.00 in costs).
Edmon agreed with Keosian that issue preclusion bars the action against Romero and his firm. She pointed out that the complaint in the fee action averred that the law firm “performed all the acts, services, and conditions required by the contract to be performed” by it, that all conditions for payment by Yaghobyan “occurred and were not excused,” and that Yaghobyan “has not paid any part” of the fees and costs due to the firm.
These facts, Edmon said, are conclusively established by the judgment. She declared that, in particular, the findings bar the causes of action for malpractice, fraud, and negligence, explaining:
“Each of these causes of action, therefore, depends on Yaghobyan’s ability to prove that Romero failed to act as a competent attorney in his representation of Yaghobyan….
“Because every legal services contract contains an implicit promise to exercise appropriate professional skill and care, the finding in the fee action that Romero performed all the acts, services, and conditions required by the retainer agreement necessarily includes a finding that he performed all required legal services with the requisite skill and care.”
Yaghobyan also sued for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Edmon said the allegations in support of those causes of action “are manifestly inconsistent with the facts established by the judgment in the fee case—that is, that Romero fully performed under the retainer agreement, but that Yaghobyan failed to do so.”
The case is Yaghobyan v. Romero, B312738.
Romero represented himself and his firm and Reshma Kamath acted for Yaghobyan.
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