Last month, a new case was decided addressing the ever-important issue of attorneys fees allocation and repayment. As we all know, attorneys fees, like everything have been on the rise. Rates have increased but also the number of hours billed and months lapsed to get cases to trial has also increased. Allocation of attorneys fees cannot merely be an afterthought. Presentation of the case and case management are extremely important in making sure you can succeed in a fee recovery after the fact.
Like so many cases that impact probate and trust law, this case was tried in front of a family law judge as a family law dissolution case. But the real dispute was between the husband and his two siblings. The husband, Daniel, claimed his brought Charleston was hiding his inheritance, which they ultimately agreed a family corporation would owe him $4 million to settle. The siblings’ Taiwanese parents had amassed a $60 million dollar estate Daniel did receive a fees award of $140,000 but when he asked for more it was denied because the court found that he “overlitigated” the case. The dispute with the siblings turned into a dispute over a handwritten agreement and whether it was intended as a final meeting of the minds between the siblings and therefore a binding legal contract. Daniel and his wife each requested fees against the siblings and the family corporation and the vast majority of those fee requests were denied by the court. They found the parties fees were not reasonable because the case was overlitigated. Daniel fought over legitimacy of documents which caused a translator to be required at trial. He also caused trial to go beyond the time estimated by the judge for the trial, which was used against him in the attorneys fees argument. There were other grounds and considerations for the denial of fees based in family law as well. Ultimately Daniel lost his fee requests and the other side got their costs on appeal.
This case is a primary example of the perils of being overly litigious. Particularly when the disputes are not going to cause the litigants to gain ground on a key relevant part of their case, an expert litigator can advise a different approach. Many of our clients at NM LAW are emotional because they are litigating against family members, which is why it is our job to counsel clients which battles will gain ground in the relevant legal dispute and which are perilous or based in emotion and not case strategy. This case is an important lesson in “choosing your battles” and heeding to the advice of sage counsel when litigating with family over personal matters.
For further information on this case, please see the link below.
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