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L.A. Story Houston-based Lanier Law Firm, which opened an East Coast office in New York City in 2005, has now moved to the West Coast, too, with a new office in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles outpost of the litigation firm opened on Oct. 1; the firm announced the new office on Oct. 16. The Los Angeles office is staffed by counsel Shepard Hoffman and associate Julie Drenner. Drenner moved to L.A. from the firm’s Houston office. Shepard will also maintain his practice at the Law Offices of Shepard Hoffman, which has offices in Dallas and Baltimore. In Los Angeles, the Lanier Law Firm will handle a variety of litigation, including asbestos exposure, commercial litigation and intellectual property, pharmaceutical liability, maritime and product liability suits. Firm founder W. Mark Lanier says the firm is doing so much work in California that he and three other lawyers from the Houston office will take the California bar exam in February 2008. No Longer Banned On Oct. 11, Beaumont’s 9th Court of Appeals ordered that a county court-at-law judge withdraw his unusual order prohibiting a Houston insurance defense firm from practicing in his court. In Re: Rudolfo Magallon and the Spurlock Law Firm involves an Aug. 16 order issued from Jefferson County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Alfred Gerson that prohibited The Spurlock Law Firm from practicing in his court. The 9th Court wrote that Gerson issued the order after he found the firm had not paid a $500 contempt fine after a witness did not appear at a mediation in an auto wreck suit. The Jefferson County clerk subsequently refused to accept the Spurlock firm’s filings in Gerson’s court, including motions to recuse, according to the 9th Court opinion. The Spurlock firm later filed a writ of mandamus against Gerson, alleging that he had not signed the $500 contempt order and that he entered the Aug. 16 order banning the firm from his court without notice or an opportunity to be heard. The firm has 13 cases pending in Gerson’s court. In a memorandum opinion, the 9th Court found that Gerson was within his discretion to fine the Spurlock firm $500, but the trial judge violated the firm’s due process rights by banning its lawyers from his court. “Although a trial court possesses an inherent power to discipline an attorney’s behavior . . . nothing in the mandamus record suggests the trial court provided the relators with notice of its intent to bar the firm from practice and opportunity to respond before it signed the order of August 16, 2007,” the 9th Court wrote. Gerson did not return a telephone call seeking comment. Carrie Westbrook, an associate with the Spurlock firm � which represents the defendant in the underlying case, Sears v. Magallon � says the firm is pleased with the ruling, with the exception that the 9th Court did not do away with the contempt fine. Trent Bond, an associate with Beaumont’s Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, which represents the plaintiff in Sears, says it’s important to note that the 9th Court upheld the $500 fine. Coverage Concerns An insurance company may have to provide coverage to Dallas’ Godwin Pappas Ronquillo as part of a legal malpractice suit filed against the firm in state district court, but Great American Insurance Co. doesn’t want to be that insurer. On Oct. 12, the Ohio-based insurance company filed a declaratory judgment action, Great American Insurance Co. v. Godwin Pappas Ronquillo, et al., in U.S. District Court in Dallas against the firm and an underwriter for Lloyds of London. Great American, which is represented by Stephen Tatum, a partner in Fort Worth’s Cantey Hanger, alleges in its complaint that a professional liability policy it issued to the firm expired almost three months before the firm told it about a legal malpractice suit filed in 2006 against Godwin Gruber � now known as Godwin Pappas Ronquillo � by a former patent litigation client. Great American provided a defense to the Godwin firm in the legal-mal case under a reservation of rights. The former client, Renato Specialty Products, and its bankruptcy trustee allege in their petition in Yaquinto, et al. v. Godwin Gruber, et al. that the firm helped the company file a patent infringement suit in the Eastern District of Texas, but the firm amended the complaint and dropped the infringement claim without any explanation to Renato. The trial judge subsequently dismissed the patent suit on summary judgment, and the defendant in the case moved to recover its attorneys’ fees and expenses for defending the suit. In its declaratory judgment action, Great American alleges that its policy covering the Godwin firm expired before the firm made a claim seeking coverage and that the Godwin firm’s representation of Renato in the patent suit was not “related” to Renato’s legal malpractice suit against the firm “resulting from that same attorney/client relationship, given the definition of “related’ in . . . the policy.” Great American claims that the Godwin firm was covered by a Lloyds of London policy at the time the Yaquinto malpractice suit was filed. Marcos Ronquillo, the managing partner of Godwin Pappas, says his firm denies the allegations in the malpractice suit and hopes the issues in the declaratory judgment action will be resolved soon. “This is not news to us,” Ronquillo says of the declaratory judgment action. “We have expected this, and it’s an issue that needs to be worked out between the insurance companies.”

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