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When the reason for a rule ceases, so should the rule itself. The law helps the vigilant, before those who sleep on their rights. Superfluity does not vitiate. As most readers know, these maxims of jurisprudence are found in the California Civil Code � 3510, � 3527 and � 3538. There is another maxim that’s more important, though: “Nobody wins in litigation.” This one isn’t found in the code, but in the common law. For the latest authority, check Dickson, Carlson & Campillo v. Pole, SC013935. After 7 1/2 years of wrangling, two court trials, a jury trial, a trip to the court of appeal and unknown gazillions in attorneys fees and costs, the verdict is in: Debra Pole and Brobeck owe Dickson, Carlson about $150,000 over Pole’s lateral move from the latter firm to the former. Along the way both firms dissolved (one of them twice) and were embarrassed on the witness stand and in court documents. Not exactly a win-win. The suit always has had a smell of pettiness about it. Its roots stretch back to 1988, when seven partners left what was then Haight, Dickson, Brown & Bonesteel to form Dickson, Carlson & Campillo. When Haight, Brown sued to enforce a noncompete clause in the partnership agreement, the Dickson, Carlson partners argued that their right to practice law was being illegally infringed. But an appellate court disagreed and ruled for Haight, Brown. A few years later, when Pole and partner William Fitzgerald left for Brobeck and took a major client with them, the Dickson, Carlson partners suddenly became less concerned about the inviolate right to practice. They claimed that in the weeks before the departure, Pole and Fitzgerald improperly provided Brobeck with confidential information about Dickson, Carlson and a client, Baxter Healthcare Corp. John Larson, Brobeck’s chairman at the time, said, “I have no reason to believe that there was anything that was improper about [the addition of Pole and Fitzgerald].” Which sounded a lot like, “Sure, we did the stuff they say, but everybody else does. We’re not going to buy a pig in a poke.” The Dickson, Carlson partners should have moved on with their lives. Instead, they sued for tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty. As a further sign of their good faith, they dissolved the firm and immediately reconstituted it, in order to maximize potential damages. (This calls to mind another maxim: “One must not change his purpose to the injury of another.” (� 3512.) Dickson, Carlson then demanded a modest $70 million from its former partners and from Brobeck. Things didn’t go so well for Dickson, Carlson. It lost a trial court judgment and was ordered to pay $1 million on Pole and Fitzgerald’s cross-complaint. But an appeal court ruled that the trial judge had misread the law and sent the case back for another round. Instead of seeing the writing on the wall, the Dickson, Carlson partners — who by now had dissolved the firm for real — appeared to salivate at the idea of a jury trial. “If ever there was a case for punitive damages, this is it,” Paul Murphy, an attorney for Dickson, Carlson, said at the time. Sure, any savvy jury consultant would agree: “One group of rich lawyers screws another group of rich lawyers. The jurors will be furious!” That was the strategy, though. Pole was put on the stand and forced to acknowledge that she had earned as much as $2 million a year, and that she still felt she could be doing better based on the value she brought to her firm. Yep, the jury was outraged. $150K, to be split roughly equally between Pole and Brobeck. No punitives. That’s going to blow some hole in Pole’s piggy bank. As for Brobeck, the liquidation committee will probably get around to paying its share of the judgment in 2015 or so. To Fitzgerald’s credit, he settled out before trial. Sure, he may have had to pay for the privilege, but he’s the only one who comes out not looking like a loser. Civil Code � 3523 states that for every wrong there is a remedy. The Dickson, Carlson partners took that to an extreme. They should have heeded the very next maxim in the code: “Between those who are equally in the right, or equally in the wrong, the law does not interpose.”

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