The Fourth District Court of Appeal granted Broward firm Koch Parafinczuk Wolf Susen’s claim to almost $165,000 in attorney fees for a wrongful death case after ex-client Anne Marie Corominas challenged the payment. Corominas had fired the firm about eight weeks into the litigation, which later settled for $1.1 million.
It was a win for Justin Parafinczuk and Marcus Susen, but they didn’t get everything they wanted.
Thursday’s per curiam opinion ordered the trial court to strike $28,000 paid for expert witness Joel Perwin, an experienced Miami appellate lawyer who gave testimony to support the firm’s billing, based on the amount and nature of its work.
“He’s handled significant appeals including the U.S. Supreme Court, so he was not cheap, as you can see by what we paid him,” Parafinczuk said.
Corominas had claimed she didn’t owe Koch Parafinczuk Wolf Susen anything, having succeeded in the litigation with other lawyers from Boca Raton firm Gold & Gold. But the Broward firm successfully struck back, calling that a bad faith position.
The trial court agreed. But the appellate court found Palm Beach Circuit Judge Thomas H. Barkdull III hadn’t properly established the necessary factors that would support a bad-faith claim — meaning it couldn’t stand, and the $28,000 fee fell with it.
Though the firm has already paid expert witness Perwin, Parafinczuk said it’s not lost money, per se.
“It’s not much different from me handling this case and taking it to trial and saying, ‘OK, now I need to deduct my costs from whatever verdict there is,’” Parafinczuk said.
Parafinczuk said he and Susen still doesn’t know why the client moved on but suspect it was because the new attorneys offered a lower contingency fee of 33 percent, rather than their 40 percent.
Counsel to Corominas — Philip A. Gold of Gold & Gold, and Elliot B. Kula, W. Aaron Daniel and William D. Mueller of Kula & Associates in Miami — did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.
Corominas has 15 days to file a motion for rehearing.
Parafinczuk and Susen had filed a complaint on behalf of Corominas, who sued Palm Beach limousine service company Ajay Transportation Inc. and its owner, Ajay Development Group LLC, over the death of her mother. Patrocinio R. Libre was killed in 2015 when her driver, an elderly man with a heart condition, suffered what appeared to be a heart attack, veered off the road and crashed into a tree.
But as it turns out, Parafinczuk and Susen would spend more time and energy fighting for their fees after being discharged than they did representing Corominas in the first place.
“That is the true irony,” Parafinczuk said. ”We went to several court hearings, two long evidentiary hearings that were basically mini trials and through an entire appeal to preserve our right to something that we were entitled to from the start.”
Read the full court opinion: