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JUDGE TOSSES KEY CLAIM IN SUIT AGAINST BURRIS Oakland attorney John Burris has reason to celebrate in a case he wanted no part of to begin with. Last week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay ruled that Angela Brumfield could not claim damages for emotional distress in her suit against Burris, as well as her former attorneys, Miles Washington and David Handsher. Quidachay, following the First District Court of Appeal, held that plaintiffs can’t recover for emotional distress in legal malpractice suits. The emotional distress claim represented the bulk of damages Brumfield had sought. Burris became involved in the case in 2001 when Brumfield asked him to represent her in a discrimination and harassment case against the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Burris referred the case to Washington, who was working in his office as an independent contractor. The case settled for $135,000, but Washington allegedly forged Brumfield’s signature and cashed the check. She went on to recover $84,000 in mediation but filed suit against the attorneys last year. Burris expressed satisfaction with Quidachay’s ruling. “It was the appropriate thing to do,” he said. “From my perspective, I shouldn’t even be involved in this case.” Brumfield’s attorney, Peter Stanwyck, an Oakland solo practitioner, said his client intended to appeal. “It’s not a malpractice case, it’s a case of theft,” he said. “We’re still researching when and how to respond to the judge’s ruling.” Washington, who has been disciplined twice for financial misconduct by the State Bar, did not return a call for comment. Nor did Handsher. According to State Bar records, Washington was convicted of grand theft in 1992 for misappropriating funds for an attorney generals’ group while serving as a deputy state attorney general and the group’s treasurer. He pleaded no contest and received a three-year license suspension and three years of probation. In 1990 Washington received one year of probation for commingling trust funds with his own money. In November, Burris said Washington was preparing to leave his office. Washington shares space there but has his own practice, Burris said. Last week, Washington was still there. “We’re working through the cases that were assigned to him initially,” Burris said. — Warren Lutz LAW FIRMS FIGHT OVER FEES IN MICROSOFT CASE Law firms that worked together on the California consumer class action against Microsoft Corp. are wrangling over their share of attorneys fees. Three firms — Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, the Scarpulla Law Firm, and the Mogin Law Firm — contend that Townsend and Townsend and Crew, the lead plaintiffs’ counsel, is trying to reduce what they are owed. In November, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Paul Alvarado ordered that the 35 law firms participating in the class action should receive $112.4 million in fees and costs — less than half of the $270 million they had requested. Lerach Coughlin says Alvarado specified that the 11 firms that participated in the executive committee overseeing the case should each receive two times their “lodestar” — the number of hours expended multiplied by counsel’s hourly rate. The lawyers had requested about five times the lodestar. At stake for the firms on the executive committee is a sum “in the low seven figures,” said Leonard Simon, of counsel at Lerach Coughlin. Townsend partner Richard Grossman said the proposed allocation of fees is in accordance with an agreement the executive committee unanimously reached before filing a fee petition. Judge Alvarado has agreed to review the issue. In the meantime, he withdrew a provision in his November order that made Townsend responsible for allocating attorneys fees among the plaintiffs’ counsel. — Brenda Sandburg

New Partners

THELEN REID ELEVATES THREE IN S.F. OFFICES Thelen Reid & Priest elected nine new partners effective Jan. 1 — including three in the San Francisco office. Charles Dyke, 44, a commercial litigator, earned his J.D. in 1992 from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago. Scott Hennigh, 36, who represents plaintiffs and defendants in commercial litigation and construction disputes, earned his J.D. in 1996 from Hastings College of the Law. Geoffrey Yost, 40, also a commercial litigator, earned his J.D. in 1991 from Santa Clara University School of Law. The firm promoted two partners in its Los Angeles office, Kenneth Pedroza and Sharon Urias. The 440-lawyer firm also has offices in San Jose as well as New York, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. Last year’s class in San Francisco was the same size. — Marie-Anne Hogarth

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