Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Law Firm Prevails In Litigation Against Former Associate

A law firm in Hawai'i terminated an associate attorney and filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel alleging that the associate had falsified time records. The attorney sued the law firm on a variety of grounds including violation of civil rights (pregnancy discrimination), breach of implied contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial jury found for the firm on all claims except the breach of implied contract and awarded over $200,000 in special damages on that claim. The trial court granted the firm post-trial judgment on the implied contract claim and appeals ensued.

The Hawai'i Supreme Court affirmed the judgment on behalf of the firm and granted attorneys' fees against the associate. The lengthy opinion addresses a wide array of evidentiary issues raised in the litigation. As to the fee award:

"Inasmuch as the trial court entered final judgment in favor of Goodsill[the firm], Goodsill was the prevailing party for purposes of attorneys' fees and costs. Finally, as to Kamaka's [the associate's]assertion that Goodsill's abusive tactics calls for a balancing of the equities, the trial court, in its order denying Kamaka's motion for fees and costs, stated that '[e]ach of the actions taken by [Goodsill], when considered in isolation, does not amount to bad faith litigation tactics or that [Goodsill] acted for reasons of harassment, delay or other improper purpose.' Having observed, first-hand, the conduct of the parties in this litigation that spanned several years, the trial court's assessment of the equities is the most credible and should not be disturbed, especially in light of this court's conclusion that Goodsill had not violated the circuit court's discovery orders and vacated the sanctions levied against Goodsill. Cf. Stanford Carr Dev. Corp., 111 Hawai‘i at 306, 141 P.3d at 479 (stating trial judge is expert himself or herself and knows as well as a legal expert what are reasonable attorneys' fees and may proceed upon its own knowledge of the value of the solicitor's services).

Based on the foregoing, we believe there is ample documentation in the record to explain and support the trial court's award of 364,154.25 in attorneys' fees pursuant to HRS § 607-14. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting Goodsill's motion for attorneys' fees.

The link to the case appears not to work. The case is Kamaka v. Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, decided on January 24, 2008.

(Mike Frisch)


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