Legal Ethics

Judge Scolds Robbins Geller for Expenses, Including $100-a-Person Dinner and First-Class Airfares

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A federal judge Spokane, Wash., has warned securities class action firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd and two of its partners that he intends to sanction them for claiming inaccurate and unreasonable expenses in a settled case.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush told partners Joy Bull and John Grant that his sanction would range from a formal admonition to a formal written reproval because of their inappropriate expense claims. The lawyers have until June 15 to oppose Quackenbush’s findings and his proposed sanctions. The National Law Journal, Legal Newsline and Forbes have stories.

Quackenbush wrote in a May 25 order that he began to look at expenses more closely after he questioned the firm’s claimed $125,000 payment to “investigators,” an amount that could not be substantiated. After his inquiries, the firm lowered its total claimed expenses of $223,000 to $114,000. Quackenbush also found that Bull had claimed too much time to prepare court documents.

Among the expenses Quackenbush questioned in his new round of inquiries was a pre-mediation dinner for four that cost $402, including two bottles of wine priced at $70 a bottle and a $60 tip. Name partners Darren Robbins and Michael Dowd acknowledged the claim was inappropriate, Quackenbush said, and the charge will be deleted. He did not specify, though, which lawyers attended the dinner.

Quackenbush also questioned first-class airfares of $1,676 for an investigator and $2,169 for Robbins. “From personal experience the court knows that an attorney or judge can accomplish his or her work requirements while flying in the coach section of an aircraft,” Quackenbush wrote. He reduced the amount to current coach charges of $356 and $401.

Bull had claimed she made mistakes because she lacked focus during her husband’s illness and death, Legal Newsline reports. Quackenbush said he recognized the emotional difficulty for a spouse in such circumstances, but it doesn’t excuse the conduct of counsel. He also criticized Bull for a statement she made in court last November.

“Ms. Bull informed the court that usually trial judges do not inquire as to claimed expenses and disbursements in class action settlements,” Quackenbush wrote. “That statement is belied by this and other court’s duties, examinations and rulings.” Quackenbush said an Oregon judge had also rejected some expense claims by Bull in a 2007 case.

At the end of his order, Quackenbush said the class action by Robbins lawyers was appropriate, and it resulted in a fair and reasonable settlement.

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