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Former partners at Dickson, Carlson & Campillo have long alleged that a pair of ex-colleagues breached their fiduciary duty when they jumped ship for San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison and took the firm’s biggest client with them. But now Brobeck and the two partners — Debra Pole and William Fitzgerald — are attempting to turn the tables. In the second day of a trial in L.A. County Superior Court, their attorney accused Dickson Carlson partners of promising to work on cases by the big-ticket client — Baxter Healthcare Corp. — and then slacking on them. Elliot Peters, a Keker & Van Nest attorney representing Pole and Fitzgerald, said the firm wanted to extract itself from the Baxter relationship so it could take on new clients. “Baxter was counting on Dickson, Carlson to handle significant client matters, and [the firm] affirmatively misled the client,” Peters said. “It’s really a horrible thing to do to your client and former partners.” The two firms and their former partners are doing battle over the departure by Pole and Fitzgerald to Brobeck in 1995. Dickson Carlson partners, who disbanded the now-defunct Santa Monica, Calif., firm after the two left, say there are owed at least $32 million in fees from breast-implant litigation involving Baxter Healthcare that Pole and Fitzgerald were handling. Yet, in his opening statement, Peters argued that Dickson Carlson didn’t act honorably toward its client when the two left the firm. Managing Partner Ralph Campillo told Baxter that the firm would continue working on its breast-implant litigation work after Pole and Fitzgerald left, Peters said. But the firm dumped several cases without telling Baxter of its intention to do so. Peters quoted a Nov. 20, 1995, memo in which Campillo describes a conversation he had with Baxter’s in-house counsel about a case. “I beat around the bush … and did not indicate that it was my intention at some point in time to punt on [the case] and any other work for Baxter,” Campillo wrote. Dickson Carlson partners are invoking a 1984 state appellate decision — Jewel v. Boxer, 156 Cal.App.3d 171 — which found that partners from a dissolved law firm must share profits from the unfinished business of the firm, unless they have an agreement that says otherwise. The partners at Dickson Carlson dissolved their firm a few weeks after Pole and Fitzgerald resigned and reconstituted the firm the following day. The firm disbanded for good in 1997. Peters said it “would be almost impossible to calculate” the unfinished business Dickson Carlson partners are claiming, since one can’t account for the work they refused to do for Baxter. “They could have made as much money as Brobeck, but it’s impossible to know because of their inequitable conduct,” he said. Peters also questioned the validity of the firm’s dissolution, but Superior Court Judge Cesar Sarmiento seemed to shoot down that line of defense. “Isn’t the question whether both sides carried out their fiduciary duties?” Sarmiento said. Reiterating that Brobeck should not be a party to the Jewel dispute, Peters said having Brobeck attorneys fork over part of their income would constitute fee splitting. He cited the Nov. 4 California Supreme Court decision in Chambers v. Kay, 02 C.D.O.S. 10913, which held that a lawyer could not collect fees for a case because he had failed to get the client’s written consent for a fee-splitting agreement with another attorney. He said Baxter never consented to fee splitting and never would. The trial in Campillo v. Pole, 039135 and 039264, is being conducted in L.A. County’s Malibu courthouse. Former Dickson Carlson partners Campillo and Hall Marston were on hand for the proceedings, as were Pole and Fitzgerald. The atmosphere between the two parties was frosty, as the former partners did not exchange words or acknowledge each other’s presence. Although the opposing counsel were cordial with each other during most of the first two days of proceedings, anger erupted over the witness lineup. Paul Murphy, a partner at Santa Monica’s O’Neill, Lysaght & Sun and counsel for the Dickson Carlson group, called former partner David Fleming as his first witness. Visibly angry about this, Keker & Van Nest’s John Keker, counsel for Pole and Fitzgerald, told the judge that the two sides had an agreement to notify each other of the witnesses they would call and the order. He understood that Campillo was going to be the first witness and had prepared accordingly.

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