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A federal magistrate judge has denied a bid by Minneapolis firm Leffert Jay & Polglaze to withdraw from a patent case, despite the fact that its client hasn’t paid nearly $278,000 in legal bills. On Nov. 15, Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham of the District of Minnesota denied Leffert’s motion to withdraw from representing Quest Optical Inc. in a case against it brought by Walman Optical Co. In January, Walman sued Quest for infringing its patent for an abrasion-resistant coating for eyeglasses. In accordance with the parties’ stipulations District Judge Patrick Schiltz entered a judgment in August, finding that Quest infringed Walman’s patent and that Walman’s patent is valid and enforceable. The injunction bars Quest from making, using, importing, offering to sell or selling in the U.S. any products that infringe Walman’s patent. In September, Walman filed a motion to enforce judgment on the ground that Quest was continuing to infringe its patent. After an October hearing on the issue, Schiltz ordered discovery and briefing on whether Quest should be held in contempt and scheduled the show-cause hearing for Feb. 27, 2012. According to its October motion to withdraw, Leffert claimed that Quest owes it $277,749.29. Walman Optical opposed the motion on the ground that it would be prejudiced by Leffert’s withdrawal if Quest Optical fails to move forward with the discovery ordered by Schiltz. Graham’s order noted that a letter to the court by Quest President J. Edward deRojas said that Leffert was aware of the significant cost associated with this “David and Goliath” case and should have been aware of its likely financial commitment. Withdrawal of counsel without substitution requires “good cause,” or nonpayment of fees plus an additional aggravating circumstance such as showing that the client doesn’t want that lawyer’s representation, Graham wrote. The sole remaining issue in the case is whether the court should hold the defendant in civil contempt, Graham continued. “To allow [Leffert] to withdraw would compel the District Court to enter a default judgment, which would not only disrupt, but abruptly end this action.” Graham added that the court is sympathetic to Leffert’s position that there’s a significant amount of money at stake, particularly since the firm only has seven lawyers. “The case is so near completion, however, that the Court finds that continued representation by [Leffert] does not constitute not an ‘unreasonable burden,’ ” Graham wrote. “ While continued representation may constitute a burden on [Leffert], the late stage of the litigation and the potential prejudice to both Plaintiff and Defendant outweighs the burden on [Leffert].” Graham emphasized, however, that the order doesn’t bind Leffert to represent Quest beyond the February contempt hearing. Quest’s attorney of record, Nicholas Kuhlmann of Leffert, said he’s disappointed, but declined to comment further. Quest did not respond to a request for comment. Darren Schwiebert, a partner at Minneapolis-based Fredrikson & Byron and one of Walman’s lawyers on the case, declined to comment. Sheri Qualters can be contacted at [email protected].

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