Asbestos defendant seeks $1M in legal fees in fraud case

John O'Brien Nov. 29, 2010, 3:30pm

Daniel Mulholland, of Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy, litigated the fraud case against the two asbestos attorneys.

NATCHEZ, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - Two attorneys found to have committed fraud during asbestos litigation may be on the hook for nearly $1 million in legal fees incurred by the company that fought them.

Attorneys William Guy and Thomas Brock have already been ordered to return $210,000 in settlements and give another $210,000 in punitive damages to Illinois Central Railroad, which filed a fraud lawsuit against the two in November 2006.

The two attorneys, who were found by a federal jury in March to have hidden two of their clients' previous involvements in an asbestos mass action, spent nearly $800,000 on their own defense.

U.S. District Judge David Bramlette ordered an accounting of attorneys fees from both sides earlier this month after Illinois Central had moved to have its fees paid by Guy and Brock.

"Though it submitted lengthy monthly billing records documenting individual billing entries for each timekeeper during that period, the records reflect only the total dollar amounts billed per month but not the total hours," Bramlette wrote Nov. 4.

"In other words, the Court is unable to determine, without performing tedious calculation, the number of attorney and paralegal hours for which Illinois Central now seeks to be reimbursed."

Bramlette says, according to state law, the most useful starting point is determing if the amount of hours worked by the attorneys and if the per-hour fees charged were reasonable.

Illinois Central hired Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy of Jackson, Miss., to pursue the case.

The firm spent 3,411 hours on the case of Willie Harried and 2,320 on the case of Warren Turner. They are the two men who sued Illinois Central in 2001.

The answers on their questionnaires submitted to the company did not disclose their previous involvements years earlier in the mass action.

All totaled, the Forman firm spent 5,731 hours on the case and charged Illinois Central $958,857 -- an average charge of $167 per hour.

By comparison, the defendants were charged $713,549 by their attorneys at Corlew Munford & Smith in Jackson. They billed 2,532 hours for an average per-hour fee of $282 -- $115 more per hour than Illinois Central's attorneys.

Guy and Brock have objected to the amount of hours the Forman firm charged Illinois Central.

Should Bramlette rule against awarding attorneys fees to the company, then it will have spent more than twice as much in fees fighting the asbestos lawyers than it recovered from the lawsuit.

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