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At Goodin, MacBride, Squeri, Day & Lamprey, the new year really will look new: The small firm’s three biggest cases all resolved in 2007. “This is a record-setting year for us,” said Wayne Lamprey, whose 13-lawyer firm focuses on commercial litigation, whistle-blower actions and regulatory proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission. “2006 was a year of toiling in the vineyards on all these cases. We did not expect to go the distance on all three.” Lamprey says he didn’t expect all three matters to get wrapped up. But in November, a judge OK’d a $42.2 million settlement in a whistle-blower suit involving a tugboat captain and the price of sand. All told, the firm said it expects attorneys fees from the almost $400 million pot of settlements and judgments it helped to realize to translate into more than $10 million in fees, though the firm declined to offer specifics for each case. Like many plaintiff firms, Goodin, MacBride is used to the ups and downs that come with a business model built, at least in part, on contingency fees. “You live off fumes for a while and all of a sudden you get fat,” said Robert Goodin, head of the firm’s five-lawyer litigation group. Eric Havian, a partner at Phillips & Cohen in San Francisco, said that any time a firm gets more than $100 million in results, it’s a good year. “It’s a very, very unusual year when a small firm or even a big firm gets those kinds of results,” he said. Phillips & Cohen, which has worked alongside Goodin, MacBride and specializes in representing whistle-blowers in qui tam lawsuits, saw a piece of two huge settlements that came in close succession a few years ago: Phillips & Cohen was representing whistle-blowers when global defense and technology company Northrop Grumman Corp. settled with the federal government for $111.2 million in 2003, and when, around the same time, health care provider HCA Inc. agreed to pay the federal government about $631 million. A final piece of Goodin, MacBride’s 2007 windfall came late this year, in its sand case. After it settled, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Terence Bruiniers on Dec. 6 awarded 27 percent of the recovery to the firm’s client, ship captain Kevin Bartoo. The settlement had come after six years of litigation over allegations that companies owned by Hanson Aggregates, a supplier of heavy construction materials, stole sand from state lands. The Goodin firm had argued that Hanson schemed to underpay the state for sand dredged from the San Francisco Bay and Delta. “Our contention was the government didn’t know what [Hanson was] doing, that they concealed it from the government,” Lamprey said. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman litigation partner Jeffrey Ross, who represented Hanson in the matter, said last week that his client believed it was operating correctly based on what it was told by the state. “When a landlord advises a tenant that its calculation is correct, the tenant is entitled to rely on that statement, especially when it’s the state of California,” Ross said.
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The Phillips & Cohen firm was lead counsel on the same side as Goodin, MacBride in a San Bernardino County Superior Court case that ended earlier this year. After a court trial they got a $224 million decision against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which was found to have overcharged several government agencies. Goodin, MacBride � whose clients included the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the L.A. Community College District � credits that as its biggest win in 2007. In October, Goodin, MacBride settled a third matter, a $127.5 million kickback case against brokerage firm Edward Jones in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, according to the firm. The attorneys’ fee award in the litigation was $27 million, according to Lamprey, which will be divvied up among seven law firms including Goodin, MacBride. Lamprey declined to say how much each firm would get. Of course, the firm, which does a mix of hourly and contingency work, won’t predict if it will see more big verdicts and settlements next year. Goodin said the firm has three sizable matters on its plate, including a case against brokerage firm AG Edwards that’s pending in St. Louis. The potential damages have not been computed, but it may turn out to be comparable to the Edward Jones case, Goodin said.

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