Trials & Litigation

Ex-client sues law firm, says it withheld 'fugly' assessment of $12M case while billing $1.3M

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Eager to rack up attorney’s fees, a California law firm withheld from a client school district its assessment of a breach of contract case as “fugly” and ran up $1.3 million in legal bills instead of trying to settle, a malpractice suit says.

Filed Tuesday, the San Diego Superior Court suit seeks to hold Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz accountable for what the San Ysidro School District alleges was a fraudulent billing scheme, reports the San Diego U-T.

EcoBusiness Alliance had initially sought $18.9 million in a breach of contract case against the school district over a plan for the solar energy company to install equipment on school property. A jury trial resulted in an award of $12 million.

The suit alleges that a partner of the law firm told the district that EBA was unlikely to settle and said San Ysidro had a good chance of winning the case, either at trial or on appeal, in order to keep the meter running on defense fees. However, in a meeting with EBA the partner allegedly described the case as “fugly.”

In a written statement provided to the newspaper, law firm managing partner Ray Artiano said the school district had been kept informed throughout the litigation process. “At every stage of this matter, there were discussions with the client concerning all case aspects, including settlement,” he wrote, noting that San Ysidro board members had discussed the case in closed-session meetings on multiple occasions.

Artiano called the “fugly” allegation “pure and utter fiction,” contending that a partner of the firm told plaintiff’s counsel “the ridiculous accusations which they were making were ‘ugly’.”

In addition to disgorgement of legal fees previously paid to the law firm, the suit seeks punitive and treble damages.and reimbursement of attorney’s fees for the malpractice litigation.

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