Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Perils Of Fee Arbitration

The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a fee arbitration award in favor of an attorney. The client had retained the attorney in a criminal case and paid for most of the services. He fired the lawyer when plea negotiations broke down, hired new counsel and was convicted at trial. The client then filed for fee arbitration, contending that the legal services were "defective" and seeking return of the fees that had been paid. He got something else--the panel awarded additional fees to the lawyer. The client appealed to the superior court, which affirmed. Here, he loses in the court of last resort.

As one might imagine, the client is now no fan of fee arbitration, which in Alaska requires the lawyer to participate when a client seeks it. The appended superior court decision notes that the client now views a panel of two attorneys and one full-time court employee to have been biased against him and to have ruled on the basis of false testimony. The superior court did not find a basis to conclude that the client established "partiality and corruption among the arbitrators." (Mike Frisch)

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