U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, Northern District of California
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, Northern District of California (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

SAN FRANCISCO — Golden Bridge Technology is convinced its lawyers at McKool Smith have a conflict. The law firm is fuming over the patent assertion entity’s unpaid bills.

But the unhappy couple will have to learn how to get along fast. They’re facing off with Apple Inc. before a jury in two weeks.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal of the Northern District of California ruled on Wednesday that McKool Smith must remain as counsel for Golden Bridge, refusing to stall the company’s May 30 patent trial with Apple. McKool Smith and Golden Bridge filed a joint motion for withdrawal of counsel in March, stressing that the desire to part ways was mutual.

“[Golden Bridge] wishes to stop incurring attorneys’ fees and expenses owed to [McKool Smith] in connection with this litigation and [McKool Smith] wishes to stop doing legal work for which it is not being paid,” McKool Smith principal Roderick Dorman wrote in the motion.

Grewal expressed pity for the lawyers, though he ruled against them. “This court is quite sympathetic to the idea that attorneys ordinarily should not be made to work for free,” the judge wrote in a two-page order.

Golden Bridge and McKool Smith joined forces to sue Apple in 2012 in San Jose federal court. Golden Bridge claims that several iterations of the iPhone and iPad infringe its patent for the 3G technology that allows cellphones to connect with base stations. Grewal denied Apple’s motion for summary judgment in a separate order issued Wednesday, finding the question should be put before a jury.

McKool Smith principal Lawrence Hadley stressed that his team will be ready to square off with Apple and its lawyers at Cooley. “We’ve been preparing for trial,” he said.

The Los Angeles-based partner declined to comment on Grewal’s order or the financial arrangement between his firm and Golden Bridge, a frequent patent litigator. According to the analytics firm Lex Machina, Golden Bridge is a plaintiff in more than 25 open cases, including suits against Motorola Mobility, Samsung Electronics Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Court papers hint at what drove the firm and its client apart. The patent assertion entity has sued network operators that are either McKool Smith clients or their business partners, giving rise to a conflict in the view of Golden Bridge, according to the motion for withdrawal.

McKool Smith disagreed that it was conflicted but made plain its own motives for withdrawing, stressing that “multiple months of billed fees and costs have gone unpaid.”

“Denial of the motion would work a serious injustice,” the brief states.

Noting that Golden Bridge had already asked another firm to represent it on a contingency basis, McKool Smith urged Grewal to suspend the trial schedule to allow a new team to prepare.

Apple lawyer Timothy Teter of Cooley wrote in court papers that the company did not mind if McKool Smith withdrew so long as the case moved forward as planned. But that was impossible in Grewal’s view.

“If the court were to grant the motion, it is difficult to imagine how this trial could proceed as scheduled,” Grewal wrote. “And rescheduling the trial would simply shift the burden to Apple, which would hardly be fair.”

Contact the reporter at jlove@alm.com.