Daily Business Review: Court Sides With Unpaid Attorneys [and Mase Lara] in Fee Fight Over Paralyzing Crash Case

Two South Florida attorneys who didn’t receive payment for thousands of hours of work on a notorious negligence case succeeded on two fronts Wednesday at the Third District Court of Appeal.

The appellate court affirmed Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Antonio Arzola’s decision to award solo practitioners Michele Feinzig and Joanne Telischi more than $250,000 in their case against Coral Gables law firm Deehl & Carlson.

The court also reversed Arzola’s ruling that the solos couldn’t collect attorney fees and costs incurred when Deehl & Carlson didn’t respond to their settlement proposals.

Feinzig and Telischi put in a combined 3,320 hours of trial and appellate support services for Deehl & Carlson in Maynoldi v. Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, which ended with the reversal of a $12 million verdict against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami.

The archdiocese was sued after one Archbishop Carroll student was killed and another was paralyzed in a crash after leaving a graduation house party. There were conflicting accounts about who was driving. Fliers for the party were posted at the school, and the principal stopped by the party but didn’t report the occurrence of underage drinking.

Deehl & Carlson majority shareholder David Deehl “needs to pay the judgment, and he needs to pay or resolve the attorney fees,” said Curtis Mase, the managing shareholder of Mase Lara who represented Feinzig and Telischi. “This has gone on long enough.”

Deehl declined to comment on the decision.

Deehl & Carlson represented the family of the paralyzed passenger, Gabriel Maynoldi.

Feinzig and Telischi worked as independent contractors on a project-by-project basis. Deehl & Carlson agreed to pay them at set hourly rates in the Maynoldi case, but the attorneys were never paid.

When they sued for breach of contract in 2011, Deehl & Carlson argued it did not owe the attorneys because the Maynoldi case was not over and it couldn’t afford to pay them.

Deehl & Carlson also contended that Feinzig and Telischi abandoned their work by telling the firm they wouldn’t accept additional Maynoldi assignments after April 2010.

Arzola decided that all parties understood Feinzig and Telischi were working as independent contractors and determined Deehl & Carlson’s financial documents didn’t support arguments that it was unable to pay.

“A reasonable time to be paid for work ending in April 2010 has long since passed,” Arzola wrote in the 2014 judgment. He awarded Feinzig a little more than $192,000 and Telischi about $82,000.

Mase filed a motion in the case on June 24 asking the court to examine whether Deehl created a new entity as a “corporate shell game” to avoid paying the final judgment, citing a Daily Business Review article reporting that Deehl recently won a $22.7 million verdict.

‘Tail Wagging The Dog’

The two unpaid attorneys, who are now both of counsel to the Law Offices of Robin Bresky in Boca Raton, also asked for attorney fees and costs in the litigation against Deehl & Carlson. State law entitles a plaintiff to fees and costs if the plaintiff files a demand of judgment that is not met within 30 days and receives a judgment at least 25 percent higher than the offer.

Feinzig and Telischi each sent settlement proposals to Deehl & Carlson in December 2012. Feinzig proposed $125,000, and Telischi proposed $50,000.

Deehl & Carlson objected to the proposals as ambiguous, saying the forms identified individual attorneys rather than the firms that were parties in the cases. Feinzig’s firm is Michele K. Feinzig P.A., and Telischi’s is Joanne Rose Telischi P.A.

Arzola ruled the two attorneys couldn’t collect fees because of this ambiguity, but the appellate court reversed that decision.

Mase argued on appeal that the law was intended to prevent prolonged, unnecessary litigation, but instead it was creating litigation.

“It’s sort of the tail wagging the dog, and you don’t want that,” he said.

Feinzig and Telischi said in an emailed statement that they were pleased with the decision.

“It is shameful that Deehl & Carlson chose to avoid its clear obligation to us, and it is fitting that Deehl & Carlson was also found liable for attorney fees incurred in our lawsuit based on our very reasonable proposals for settlement,” they said. “Deehl & Carlson should finally honor its obligation to pay us for work performed more than five years ago without further protracted litigation.”

Read the article here.

Read the full opinion here.

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