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A jury found Monday that Debra Pole’s defection to Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison a decade ago involved some misconduct by Pole and Brobeck, but awarded her former partners a mere $153,688 in damages. After deliberating in Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Malibu courthouse less than two days, jurors decided Brobeck must pay the now-defunct Santa Monica, Calif., firm Dickson, Carlson & Campillo $80,888, while Pole must fork over $72,800. The jury found there was no malice, oppression or fraud committed by the defendants, and thus no punitive damages were awarded. “I certainly hoped Debra would be found not liable on all counts,” said Pole’s attorney, David Schrader, a Los Angeles solo practitioner and former Brobeck partner. “But given that they were asking for $33 million in damages, I can’t imagine the plaintiffs are claiming victory.” “Apparently we’ve established the principle that this is breach of fiduciary duty and interference with DCC’s business, but we were not into it to establish a principle,” said Dickson Carlson’s attorney, Brian Lysaght. “We felt damages should be substantial.” The Dickson Carlson partners claimed that Pole shared proprietary information with Brobeck that enabled the firm to snare its top client, Baxter Healthcare Corp. The jury voted 9-3 that Pole breached her fiduciary duty to her former partners, but concluded that she did not breach either the partnership agreement or the applied covenant of good faith. Schrader said jury instructions on breach of fiduciary duty “set such a high standard that many partners may be breaching their fiduciary duty when they interview with other firms.” He said the instructions specified that a lawyer could not share any information in an interview that his or her firm thinks may be confidential. Schrader said that after the verdict was read members of the jury told him “to tell Debra they had a lot of respect for her” and felt compelled to issue the verdict based on the jury instructions. Lysaght, of Santa Monica’s O’Neill, Lysaght & Sun, attributed the verdict to Pole’s sympathetic appearance to the jury. “It was very easy for Debra Pole to portray herself as a victim, and she successfully did that,” he said. “I think if the case was just against Brobeck it would have been different.” Pole was the national coordinating and trial counsel for Baxter’s silicone breast implant litigation. The Baxter work represented 60 percent of Dickson Carlson’s revenues, and the partners claimed the loss of the work led the firm to collapse. Brobeck’s attorney Eliot Jubelirer, of San Francisco’s Morgenstein & Jubelirer, could not be reached for comment. Dickson Carlson claimed Brobeck interfered with the firm’s economic advantage and with its partnership agreement. The jury ruled against Brobeck on only one of the two interference claims. The eight-year battle has cost the parties millions of dollars. Lysaght said his clients still have a shot at winning additional damages. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Cesar Sarmiento is to rule on a separate unfair competition claim. Lysaght said his clients are asking for restitution of the assets they lost to Brobeck, which he said are in the $10 million to $12 million range. Sarmiento is also to rule on the first phase of the litigation, which addresses unfinished business that Pole and William Fitzgerald — a Dickson Carlson partner who settled out of the case a week into the trial — took with them to Brobeck. Lysaght said this accounting phase is worth $10 million to his clients. The Dickson Carlson partners originally sought $32 million in unfinished business. While Pole would be entitled to 9.8 percent of whatever Dickson Carlson received from this work, Lysaght said the partnership agreement had a provision that a partner could be cut out of payment for cause. Given the jury verdict, he said, there might be a question of whether she shares in any of these proceeds. The case is Dickson, Carlson & Campillo v. Pole, SC039135 and SC39264.

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