Elisabeth Thieriot
Elisabeth Thieriot ()

SAN FRANCISCO — Farella Braun + Martel has sued a Bay Area socialite and skin-care entrepreneur over what it contends are attempts to “cheat” the firm out of more than $450,000 in fees that she began racking up during a 2011 legal spat with her ex-boyfriend.

It’s the second time that the firm has gone after Elisabeth Thieriot, founder of a botanical skin care line and author of the book, “Be Fabulous at Any Age.” The firm previously sued Thieriot in January 2016 to confirm an arbitration award for $467,227.81 over the unpaid legal bills, and won.

Now, in a complaint filed Dec. 29, Farella says Thieriot has transferred her assets into trusts, including a $10 million mansion in Tiburon, in order to keep the firm from collecting. The suit also names a beneficiary of one of the trusts, her son Joshua D. Horowitz, as a defendant.

“Instead of paying FBM what she owes, Thieriot worked to deprive FBM of its compensation by multiple fraudulent transfers of her assets,” says the complaint, filed by Farella attorneys Anthony Schoenberg and James Baker. “Thanks to her fraudulent scheme, Thieriot continues to live at the residence, control it, and use it as the headquarters for various business ventures.”

Reached on Tuesday Thieriot responded by email. “[The] Farella firm is practicing white collar crime with use of [the] legal system,” she wrote. “They use [their] legal license for stealing instead of protecting.”  

Her counsel in the previous case, Alameda attorney William Caspari, said he had not yet seen the complaint and not been retained to represent Thieriot in the new matter.

Schoenberg described the suit as a last resort. “You hate to have to withdraw from representing a client. You certainly hate to have to sue a former client,” he said. “We’re not happy that we’ve had to do this.”

The litigation underlying the dispute centered on a $1.6 million loan made by Thieriot to her then-boyfriend, Robert Eves. When Eves didn’t pay the loan back, Thieriot hired Farella and took action to foreclose on his home, which had been put up as collateral. Eves then sued Thieriot, and Farella defended her in that litigation as well.

Eves and Thieriot ultimately settled for the full outstanding amount of the loan. But over the course of those proceedings, Thieriot only paid $34,080.88 of the total $249,863.20 in legal bills she racked up, according to the Farella complaint. The arbitrator’s award against her, issued in October 2015, includes the outstanding fees plus late payment fees, interest and arbitration fees.

In contesting the award early last year in front of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn, Thieriot’s new lawyer insinuated that the rate that Farella’s attorneys had charged was too high—saying that Farella partner Matthew Lewis charged $730 per hour for “routine” foreclosure work.

She also objected because she was not represented by counsel at oral argument during the arbitration.

Contact Ben Hancock at bhancock@alm.com.