The United States Law Week

Firms Won’t Split Fee Despite Wrongful Conduct Allegation

Feb. 1, 2019, 7:32 PM

A law firm won’t be sharing its fees from a class action with the firm that referred it the case.

Barnes Crosby Fitzgerald & Zeman LLP didn’t show that Ringler Kearney Alvarez LLP unfairly blocked it from getting the written client consent required to split fees under the California Rules of Professional Conduct, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, ruled.

Though the Rules require written consent, in an earlier decision in the case the appeals court clarified that the rule doesn’t apply where one firm wrongfully prevents the other from getting the consent.

Barnes LLP argued that RKA shouldn’t be allowed to use the rule to prevent it from obtaining its equitable share of the fees.

The lower court, considering the case for the second time on remand, properly considered whether RKA inappropriately switched the named plaintiffs and concluded it didn’t, the opinion here by Justice Raymond J. Ikola said. The lower court also properly concluded RKA had valid concerns that a non-disclosure agreement in a related case prevented Barnes LLP from taking part in the class action, it said.

The evidence supported the lower court’s findings, and, as it turned out, it was impossible for RKA to make a full disclosure because Barnes LLP concealed a blatant conflict it had in the case, the appeals court said.

Justices William W. Bedsworth and Richard M. Aronson joined the opinion.

The case is Barnes Crosby Fitzgerald & Zeman LLP v. Ringler, 2019 BL 31527, Cal. Ct. App., 4th Dist., No. G053966, unpublished 1/31/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bloomberglaw.com

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