The United States Law Week

Ringling Chief’s Fight Over $4M in Fulbright Legal Fees Revived

Dec. 7, 2018, 7:47 PM

Feld Entertainment chief executive Kenneth Feld will get another chance to force his homeowner’s insurer to fully cover Fulbright & Jaworski LLP’s $4.5 million legal bill for defending him from a lawsuit brought by his estranged sister.

The dispute centers on the hourly fees charged by Fulbright & Jaworski, which in 2013 became Norton Rose Fulbright. Kenneth Feld’s insurer, which prevailed in the district court, paid only $2.1 million toward the his legal bill.

The insurer said the additional costs to defend against the squabble within the family, which long operated the Ringling Brothers Circus, were based on hourly rates much higher than what the insurer agreed to cover.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit revived the lawsuit Dec. 6. The appeals court said it wasn’t clear whether Kenneth Feld and Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. reached a binding agreement on what hourly rates were “reasonable” under his homeowners’ policy.

Because there were unresolved factual questions about the parties’ agreement, the district court shouldn’t have ruled for the insurer without a trial, the appeals court said.

FFIC said it would cover hourly legal fees no higher than $250 for partners, $200 for associates, and $100 for paralegals. Fulbright’s fees in the underlying action topped $500 per hour, the court said.

This “wide gulf” could indicate that no binding fee agreement was reached, the court said. So could the communications between Fulbright and FFIC, which the court called a “mixed bag.”

The dispute began in 2007, when Kenneth Feld invited his estranged sister, Karen Feld, to his home to mourn their deceased aunt by sitting shiva.

Kenneth Feld had his sister forcibly removed after she threw a wine glass and screamed profanities. Her lawsuit challenging her removal led to a jury trial and a D.C. Circuit opinion favoring Kenneth Feld.

Senior Judge Harry T. Edwards wrote the decision, which was joined by Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland and Judge Thomas B. Griffith.

Norton Rose Fulbright represented Feld. Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP represented the insurer.

The case is Feld v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., D.C. Cir., No. 17-7169, 12/7/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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