Trials & Litigation

Judge says BigLaw firm tried to 'litigate plaintiff to death'

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A Georgia judge has ordered Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan to pay $175,000 in attorney fees, saying the firm had a strategy of trying to “litigate [the] plaintiff to death.”

Judge Dax Lopez of DeKalb County ordered the payment of attorney fees as a sanction in an amended order last Tuesday, according to the Daily Report, which quotes from the order.

“In sum, defendants gambled on a bad-faith strategy and lost,” Lopez wrote. “Defendant vigorously litigated baseless defenses in hopes of litigating plaintiff, an individual with very limited resources, to the point where he could no longer afford to continue without settling for a lesser sum.”

Sutherland represented software companies in a suit filed by Timothy Coen, a former general counsel for a subsidiary, according to the story. Coen had claimed the companies fired him without abiding by his employment contract, which required payment of a $100,000 bonus and base salary for the rest of the contract term in the event of termination.

The companies had argued they weren’t obligated to pay the money because of an injunction entered by a bankruptcy court.

Lopez said the defendant CDC software signaled “a strategy of litigation by attrition” when Sutherland lawyer Allegra Lawrence-Hardy sent a February 2013 letter to the opposing counsel that read: “Prior to your client incurring the expense and risk of motions for summary judgment and trial in this case, we write to inform you that CDC Software’s insurance carrier has recently agreed to cover the costs of defending Mr. Coen’s suit against the company. This development removes the only material litigation risk for the company in pursuing its defense of this case through trial and, if necessary, appeal, which the company fully intends to do.”

A Sutherland spokeswoman gave this statement to the Daily Report: “We respectfully disagree with the amended order of attorney fees and we stand by our defense of the client.” The company had argued Coen was improperly trying to “parlay his summary judgment victory” in the contract dispute into an entitlement to attorney fees and litigation expenses.

Coen did not escape criticism either. He had originally sought nearly $250,000 in attorney fees, but Lopez said not all of the attorney time was justified. “Though not argued by defendants, the court questions the reasonableness of the hours billed given that plaintiff chose to retain three separate law firms to prosecute this matter,” Lopez said.

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