BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY
Gregory E. Stone, Esq. represented a plaintiff against her family law lawyer for excessive billing and bad faith. Case was arbitrated pursuant to the client’s fee agreement with her lawyer resulting in an award refunding the client’s money as well as an award of $70,000 in punitive damages against the lawyer.
Published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal: Verdicts & Settlements on September 26, 2014.
$78,747 on cross-claim.
Richard P. Curtin v. Pamela Snitchler I MC023658,
Attorney Client Arbitration Program Number: 2013-003.
Los Angeles Superior Lancaster I April 28, 2014.
Kirtley M. Thiesmeyer.
Plaintiff – Richard P. Curtin (Law Office of Richard P. Curtin, Lancaster).
Claimant Richard P. Curtin, by written agreement, represented respondent Pamela Snitchler in a pending divorce. Curtin appeared on several occasions for over six years on Snitchler’s behalf. A non-binding arbitration was held where an award for approximately $29,000 was issued in favor of Snitchler. Curtin, in lieu of filing a request for trial de novo, filed a state court action against Snitchler for breach of contract. Snitchler then moved to compel the breach of contract case into binding arbitration along with her counterclaims for an accounting and breach of fiduciary duty. Both parties’ made claims for arbitrated binding arbitration.
Curtin contended that he actually under billed Snitchler and as such was actually owed money. Any accounting discrepancies was simply an error and not intentional.
Snitchler contended that on several occasions Curtin was delayed and was unable to secure attorney fees and spousal support on her behalf. The family residence was ultimately sold and the proceeds were placed initially into Curtin’s trust account. Despite not being owed any money at the time, respondent claimed that Curtin prepared and signed an order and stipulation allowing him to take $30,000 in attorney fees from his trust account from the proceeds of the family residence. Snitchler contended she was never made aware or otherwise given notice of this act. When Snitchler requested an accounting, she realized that this $30,000 was never credited to her account. Respondent contended that Curtin became frustrated and upset with the inquiries. Snitchler contended that Curtin billed paralegal and secretary work at his attorney rate. She also contended that Curtin was non-responsive and when she requested an accounting, he then backdated many billings to make up for the $30,000 discrepancy.
The arbitrator found in favor of respondent on her cross-claims awarding her $38,747 in compensatory and $40,000 punitive damages or a total of $78,747.
The arbitrator found there were discrepancies between the services performed and the amounts billed. The arbitrator found Curtin’s conduct amounted to a breach of fiduciary duty supporting an award of punitive damages.
FILING DATE: Aug. 27, 2013.