Jones Day Pro Bono Clients Sue Firm, Call Work ‘Fiasco’

July 30, 2019, 8:17 PM

Two Orange County, California, mobile home owners are suing global law firm Jones Day for several violations including legal malpractice as they allege the firm’s inadequate pro bono work on their case ultimately led to their eviction.

The complaint Zona Bernier and Gary C. Hill filed on July 25 with the Superior Court of California for Orange County says the firm didn’t render “competent and adequate legal services.”

“For Plaintiffs, the Jones Day ‘work’ was a fiasco,” it said.

Bernier and Hill say that Jones Day advertises that its non-paying pro bono clients receive the same quality legal work as its paying clients but that their case “rebukes and contradicts” this “positive advertising.”

Jones Day didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.

The plaintiffs state in their complaint that through the firm’s relationship with Orange County Legal Aid Society, Jones Day agreed to defend them in their landlord’s unlawful detainer suit to evict them from their mobile home. The firm, according to the complaint, staffed the matter with a Jones Day partner, a senior associate, and two summer associates, who entered into their engagement with the clients in June 2018.

Bernier and Hill claim they didn’t want to settle the case because they had solid defenses and could have won. But Jones Day didn’t take the time “to discern the facts or conduct basic legal research,” they allege, and told them they would lose at trial so they should accept “right away the onerous settlement terms proposed” by their landlord.

They allege Jones Day didn’t want to spend “client-billable attorney time on the ‘pro bono’ case.”

After signing the settlement, “without warning” Jones Day dropped them as clients even though their engagement agreement allegedly said the firm would represent them for the duration of the dispute with their landlord.

Bernier and Hill, who are asking for compensatory and punitive damages, say they were left “to navigate through the complicated settlement agreement by themselves,” and were unable to timely meet the burdensome settlement terms so that they lost their home. They’re now unable to rent because of the stain of eviction and are “permanently homeless,” they say.

Patrick J. Evans of Huntington Beach, Cal., is representing the plaintiffs.

The case is Bernier v. Jones Day, Cal. Super. Ct., No. 30-2019-01085904, complaint filed 7/25/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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