Holland & Knight has obtained a $772,000 judgment against Charles Gibbs, an ex-partner and veteran trusts and estates lawyer, for the firm’s share of legal fees from two cases.
The judgment comes nearly three years after Gibbs initiated litigation when he sued the firm, claiming it owed him more money. Soon after, Holland & Knight brought its own claims against Gibbs.
“It started as a claim by him against the firm for additional compensation … and it ended up being a judgment against him for almost 800,000,” said Michael Delikat, Holland & Knight’s lawyer and a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “That’s quite a reversal of how the case started.”
The fees in the $772,000 judgment that Holland & Knight obtained relate to work Gibbs performed as guardian ad litem on two matters, including the estate of New York investment banker Bruce Wasserstein.
According to court papers, Gibbs was appointed guardian ad litem in September 2011 for two minor sons of Wasserstein. (Wasserstein’s company in 2014 bought back ALM, the parent company of the Law Journal and affiliated publications.)
The fees in dispute also come from a woman’s estate that had a wrongful death claim.
In both cases, Gibbs was a guardian ad litem appointed by the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court while practicing at Holland & Knight. He was awarded and paid fees from those cases after he left the firm in March 2014.
Last year, Holland & Knight obtained an arbitration award against Gibbs for its share of the fees, about $431,318.
Arbitrator Betsy Plevan, a Proskauer Rose partner, found that while there is no express provision under the partnership agreement to transfer the guardian ad litem fees to the firm, Gibbs had a duty under the agreement to do so, and a substantial part of the work was done by other Holland & Knight lawyers.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos signed a court judgment this month confirming the arbitration award, along with $17,469 in interest and $323,266 in attorney fees for Holland & Knight’s costs incurred in the arbitration, totaling $772,084.
Meanwhile, Gibbs’ initial claim against Holland & Knight for more than $1.5 million, which he originally filed in court in 2014, is now pending in arbitration.
Gibbs has alleged Holland & Knight refused to properly pay him for his work, including his role in the $300 million estate case of heiress Huguette Clark.
Gibbs, now senior counsel at Solomon Blum Heymann, said he was the principal originator of “numerous H&K clients,” and represented the nominating executors for Clark’s estate in the high-profile contest of her will in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court.
Gibbs said Holland & Knight was awarded $11.5 million in fees plus costs and his share would have been at least $825,000. But his 2014 suit claimed Edward Koren, the partner who leads the firm’s trusts and estates practice, reduced Gibbs’ origination credit and kept one-third of the credit for himself.
In a statement, Gibbs’ attorney, Clifford Robert, a principal at Robert & Robert who entered the case after Holland & Knight’s arbitration win, said, “This has been a long, drawn-out, and complex case and last year’s arbitration award on one narrow issue was merely a step along the way.”
He added that since he began representing Gibbs earlier this year, “our focus has been on pursuing the multimillion-dollar claim against Holland & Knight and that remains our top priority.”