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Eight months after a jury slapped Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with a $1 million verdict for firing whistleblower Dee Kotla, an Alameda County, Calif., judge awarded the woman’s attorneys $1 million in fees. Superior Court Judge Yolanda Northridge later snipped $255,000 from the jury verdict, but her order on attorney fees brings the lab’s legal loss to about $2 million. In her Nov. 4 order, Northridge awarded the plaintiff’s lawyers at Oakland, Calif.’s Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer about $714,000. With a 0.5 multiplier, the total fee award increases to about $1,069,000. The judge denied the plaintiff’s request for a multiplier of three, but said because the case was “aggressively defended” and that it had “several layers of evidentiary analysis … that added to its complexity,” she granted the lower number. Northridge also awarded the plaintiff nearly $50,000 in court costs. The case stems from Kotla v. Regents of the University of California, V014799-8. Kotla, who was a lab worker, said she was fired shortly after she testified on behalf of Kim Norman, a woman who sued a male lab employee for alleged sexual harassment. Kotla was Norman’s supervisor. Norman’s case settled, but Kotla said the lab began investigating her computer use and phone calls after she gave testimony that backed Norman’s claims. The lab says Kotla was fired because she was using her telephone and computer for unauthorized purposes. In May, Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey used the Kotla case as an example of how Department of Energy contractors — such as the University of California Regents, which runs the lab — are wasting money on legal expenses. If the DOE doesn’t look at expenses more closely, “contractors will have no incentive to settle cases that are frivolous or in which they are in the wrong,” Markey said in a press release. A lab spokeswoman disputed Markey’s characterization and said the lab has already filed an appeal with the First District Court of Appeal. It plans to add its objections to the fee award to that effort. “We are, frankly, shocked,” said Susan Houghton, a spokeswoman for the lab. “We don’t think that this is supported by case law.” Houghton contends that, in the end, Kotla will take home less than her lawyers. In addition to the fee order, her attorneys will get 30 percent of Kotla’s remaining $745,000 jury award. That means Kotla’s attorneys could take home about $1.5 million, Houghton said. Houghton said San Francisco’s Littler Mendelson, which was outside counsel for the lab, was paid $250 per hour and has gotten a total of $840,000 in fees and court costs so far. J. Gary Gwilliam, Kotla’s attorney, requested that he be paid an hourly fee of $500, according to court documents. Gwilliam declined to delve into details of his fee agreement with Kotla, but he disputed Houghton’s math. Kotla’s final jury award and the attorneys fees will go into one pot, he said. Her attorneys, which include Gwilliam and attorneys who handled the case earlier, are all working on contingency and will get a percentage of the entire amount, he said. Also, according to Gwilliam’s fee application to the court, the Department of Energy has reimbursed the lab $781,500 for Littler’s legal fees. That figure could grow larger, Gwilliam said. It’s “1,000 percent” not true that plaintiffs’ attorneys will get more than Kotla, Gwilliam said.

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