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Courtney v. Hall-Edwards, Case No. 3D13-2662 (3rd DCA)

In Courtney, the Third District quashed the decision of the trial court denying a fee award to a discharged attorney who sought to enforce a charging lien for $114,250 in fees, an amount stipulated as reasonable following a settlement post-dating a $19,000,000 jury award. The trial court had determined that the discharged attorney was not entitled to a fee because subsequent counsel “had to fight long and hard before the case finally settled, thereby dwarfing petitioner’s efforts and entitling his fee request to no consideration.” The Third District disagreed with the trial court. First, the Third DCA noted that “a client’s desire to hire a more aggressive lawyer with greater ‘expertise’ than the lawyer initially hired does not deprive the initially discharged attorney of entitlement to be paid for his or her work.” The Court stated that ruling otherwise would render charging liens superfluous. In addition, the Third DCA rejected the argument that a fee should be denied because the case took many years to resolve after the petitioning attorney was discharged. Notably, the Third DCA found that the subsequently hired lawyer’s behavior needlessly prolonged the matter. Further, the Court noted that the discharged attorney’s efforts were “not nugatory,” as he interviewed witnesses, located and preserved the automobile involved in the accident, crafted meaningful and appropriate discovery, and located, interviewed and educated two experts both of whom later testified in one or more trials in the case. The Court found these efforts to be of significance, and entitled the discharged attorney to enforce his charging lien for fees. The Third DCA additionally noted that no argument was made that the charging lien was disproportionate to the amount the client and her attorneys received.
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