Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Attorney Trumps Client in Fee Dispute

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Attorney Trumps Client in Fee Dispute

Article excerpt

A jury awarded a client $250,000 in a successful employment discrimination suit against the California Highway Patrol, and the court ultimately awarded almost a million dollars in attorney's fees and expenses. Since there was no definitive fee agreement between the attorney and the client, the question arose: To whom does the fee award belong? The California Supreme Court held it is the property of the attorney, unless the client can prove a different fee agreement. Flannery v. Prentice, 28 P.3d 860 (2001).

The fees were awarded by virtue of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which provides that in an action under the statute the court "may award to the prevailing party reasonable attorney's fees and costs." The client relied on this language, but the court, in an opinion by Justice Werdegar, shredded this position, holding that a party's attorney may in some instances by considered a "party," and that, in any event, the intent of the California legislature was to grant the awarded fee to the attorney, in the absence of a controlling agreement between the attorney and the client. …

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