SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - The California Supreme Court is being asked to review a lower court ruling that awarded $349,000 in attorney fees in a case that featured an award for emotional damages of $550.
In 2008, Vittorio Froncillo filed a sexual harassment against Contemporary Services Corporation after he claimed he was harassed by his female supervisor. In 2011, Froncillo received a favorable verdict in state court, but was awarded just $550. The jury did not award punitive damages.
Froncillo's counsel sought what they called reduced attorney fees of $349,000 under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the judge granted that request. The California Court of Appeal later affirmed that fee request.
In a petition for review to the California Supreme Court, Contemporary Services questions the attorney fee reward that is equal to roughly 634 times the judgment.
"Should the determination of what constitutes reasonable attorneys fees to be awarded to plaintiff's counsel be based on a ... figure proportionate to the degree of success achieved by plaintiff's counsel," attorney Steven J. Renick writes in the petition. "For the purposes of this proposed rule, should the degree of success achieved by plaintiff's counsel generally be measured by the ratio of the amount actually awarded by the jury, with this ratio then being multiplied by the traditional ... calculation of hours worked times hourly fee to determine the proportionate ... figure to be used by the trial court in determining the appropriate amount of attorneys fees to be awarded to plaintiff's counsel?"
In other words, Froncillo received about 1 percent of the damages he requested, but his attorneys received money for about 75 percent of the time they claimed to have worked on the case.
"By any reasonable measure that might be used by a non-lawyer, the outcome of the case was an unmitigated disaster for Vittorio Froncillo," Renick wrote in the petition for review. "After more than two-and-a-half years of litigation, he was awarded just $550, or about $20 a month over the court of the litigation.
"The outcome was quite different for Mr. Froncillo's lawyers. Even with the 25 percent self-reduction in their fees, they were paid for their time at the respectable rate of $369.82 per hour. While Mr. Froncillo earned $20 per month for the time he was involved in the case, his attorneys earned $20 every 3 ¼ minutes they spent on it."
Renick is asking the California Supreme Court to remand the case back to state court to reconsider the plaintiff's motion for attorney fees.