Law Firms

Former BigLaw partner must pay attorney fees to firm that are about $446K greater than his award, judge says

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A New York judge has affirmed an arbitrator’s decision that awarded $224,000 in unpaid fees to a former Holland & Knight partner but ordered him to pay nearly $670,000 for the law firm’s attorney fees and costs.

Judge Andrew Borrok of the New York State Supreme Court’s Commercial Division upheld the arbitrator’s decision in a case brought by former partner Charles F. Gibbs, a trusts-and-estates litigator, Law360 reports.

Gibbs had sued partly because the firm reduced an $825,000 origination credit that he had claimed for representing the executors of the $300 million estate of heiress Huguette Clark, who died in 2011 at age 104, according to previous coverage of the dispute.

The arbitrator had awarded fees to Holland & Knight after finding that Gibbs was not the prevailing party on the central issues of arbitration. The arbitrator had granted Gibbs’ claim for $224,000 in unpaid compensation but found for Holland & Knight on the rest of his claims: breach of the partnership agreement, breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment.

Borrok said the arbitrator’s decision was “not irrational,” and there was “no misconduct, fraud or partiality” by the arbitrator. In addition, the arbitrator did not exceed his power, Borrok said in his Feb. 17 opinion.

Gibbs had maintained in a July 2022 brief that there can be only one prevailing party in a civil suit, and he was the prevailing party because he obtained some of the relief that he sought.

“There is no balancing test, nor is there a question of which party ‘prevailed’ in the colloquial sense on discrete issues or claims, neither is there any scorekeeping as to which party ‘prevailed’ on more issues or claims than the other,” according to the brief filed for Gibbs.

Neither Gibbs nor a Holland & Knight media contact immediately replied to the ABA Journal’s requests for comment sent by email and left on voicemail.

Gibbs’ lawyer, Michael Farina of Robert & Robert, spoke with Law360 about the decision.

“Obviously, we were disappointed with the arbitrator’s decision,” Farina said. “Charlie Gibbs was one of the most renowned trust-and-estates lawyers in New York.”

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