A former associate at Brayton Purcell has sued the firm and founding partner Alan Brayton for failing to pay his legal costs in a malpractice case and bar investigation that followed a scathing order by an Ohio judge accusing him of rampant misconduct in an asbestos case.
Christopher Andreas, who was an associate on the trial team from 1995 to 2008, filed suit on July 1 in San Francisco County, Calif., Superior Court.
“I am seeking what I shouldn’t have had to pay out of my own pocket,” Andreas said. “The order is the starting point for my action—when I began to incur legal expenses that should have been paid by my employer and my insurer.”
Mark Abelson of Campagnoli, Abelson & Campagnoli in San Francisco, who represents Brayton and the firm, declined to comment.
In 2007, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas Judge Harry Hanna issued the order accusing Andreas of multiple acts of misconduct, such as lying about how his client was exposed to asbestos in order to sue more defendants and obtain settlements, and then obstructing discovery during the judge’s investigation.
Hanna’s order has been cited frequently by critics of asbestos trusts who allege the claims process is cloaked in secrecy and encourages fraudulent filings. Last month, for instance, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would require asbestos bankruptcy trusts to provide more information about their claims.
But Andreas, in his suit, claims that Brayton and his Novato, Calif., firm are to blame in the Ohio case.
“Defendant Brayton and Defendant BP [the law firm] have stood quietly by and accepted ill-gotten gains on behalf of an oblivious client,” he wrote.
Brayton Purcell specializes in bringing cases on behalf of plaintiffs who have been injured or died from exposure to asbestos or other materials known to cause mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. The firm has additional offices in Los Angeles; Salt Lake City; and Portland, Ore.
According to the suit, Brayton oversaw the preparation and filing of client claims with settlement or bankruptcy trusts set up by asbestos manufacturers. One such company, Western Asbestos Co., was the “exclusive distributor” of asbestos-containing insulation products made by Johns Manville on the West Coast, he wrote.
According to the suit, Brayton obtained “hundreds of millions of dollars in default judgments” against Western Asbestos. Brayton also served on the advisory board administering Western Asbestos Company’s $2 billion trust, he wrote.
In 2000, New York’s Early, Ludwick, Sweeney & Strauss referred the Ohio case to Brayton Purcell. According to Andreas, the complaint erroneously claimed the client, the late Harry Kananian, had contracted mesothelioma while working on shipyards in San Francisco. After obtaining a default judgment against Western Asbestos, Brayton Purcell and Early, Ludwick, Sweeney & Strauss allegedly received “hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Western Trust based on what was and is to this day a Western default judgment entered under false pretenses,” he wrote.
The errors surfaced in the Ohio case, during which Andreas, assigned to handle the impending trial against the sole remaining defendant, Lorillard Tobacco Co., claims he was forced to come up with explanations.
“I was in Ohio having to deal with this nightmare I had nothing to do with,” he said.
Hanna’s order revoked Brayton Purcell’s privilege to practice in his courtroom. Following the order, Andreas faced an investigation by the State Bar of California, according to the suit. He claims that Brayton Purcell and Brayton failed to reimburse him or indemnify him for costs associated with the misconduct allegations. He also was sued, along with the firm, by Kananian’s family members for malpractice. In 2010, Brayton Purcell settled that case, and Andreas was dismissed.
When Andreas first joined the firm, Brayton had told him that his costs would be paid through a legal malpractice insurer. But five years later, Brayton announced that he “would no longer pay hefty premiums to third party insurance carriers for legal malpractice coverage,” the suit says. He said money to pay those costs would be set aside into a firm account.
After Hanna’s order, Brayton reached an agreement with Andreas that he could remain at the firm full time, receiving a salary, but had to pay his own defense costs, according to the complaint. Andreas was in the process of appealing the Ohio order and defending against the State Bar of California’s investigation, both of which required him to hire attorneys. He also was forced to hire his own attorney in the malpractice case after the firm didn’t provide one, he said.
In 2008, Brayton notified him by email that he would no longer receive a salary since he had done no work for the firm for six months, the suit says.
The State Bar of California also closed its investigation of Andreas, according to the suit. The bar’s Web site lists Andreas, a solo practitioner in San Francisco, as a practicing attorney with no public record of discipline since he was admitted in 1995.
In his suit, Andreas, citing California Labor Code violations, seeks reimbursement of more than $300,000 in legal costs. “Those were costs I was not reimbursed for that should have been covered by my employer,” he said. He also seeks unspecified damages for breach of contract and breach of common law fiduciary duties, as well as violations of California’s unfair business practices law.
He also seeks punitive damages.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com.