Law firm will be sanctioned over padded expense sheet

By John O'Brien | May 29, 2012


SPOKANE, Wash. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge plans to sanction a class action law firm that he says purposely padded its hours and expense sheets.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush, of Washington's eastern district, warned Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd Friday that he will be sanctioning it, along with attorneys Joy Bull and John Grant. The two led a class action against the student-travel company Ambassadors Group.

Quackenbush said he will impose a maximum sanction of a formal written reproval.

"(T)he court (had) advised counsel that it was considering the imposition of sanctions by reason of the intentionally misleading and inaccurate claims for monies for expenses and disbursements filed by Mr. Grant and Ms. Bull and their law firm," Quackenbush wrote.

"In response to that notice, Ms. Bull and Mr. Grant and the Robbins law firm have acknowledged that 'mistakes were made' in the submittals for reimbursement. The court is unable to find that these 'mistakes' were inadvertent or mere oversights."

The attorneys are seeking 25 percent of a $7.5 million settlement, plus expenses.

In February, Quackenbush asked Bull and Grant to show why class members should pay for expenses that included a $402 dinner for four, expensive hotel rooms and two round-trip plane ticket that cost almost $4,000.

The dinner included two $72 bottles of wine and a $60 tip for the waiter. Grant wrote that he should've reduced the charge when he submitted it. Quackenbush ruled Friday, after two partners in the firm acknowledged the inappropriateness of the charge, that it should be struck entirely from the expenses sheet.

He reduced a claim for a $1,676.40 round-trip plane ticket from New York to Spokane and a claim for a $2,169 round-trip ticket from New York to Los Angeles to the current market prices for coach tickets -- $356 and $401.

Already reduced was a claim for $125,935 for a private investigator, an amount that provided an hourly rate of $445. It was reduced to $$31,710.15.

Quackenbush also slashed the amount of hours the two claimed they worked. Bull said she worked 135 hours, but Quackenbush says that at a maximum she should claim 95. Grant should claim a maximum of 40 for preparing the amended complaint, he added.

Bull had said any mistakes made by her were the result of a lack of focus stemming from her husband's sickness and death.

"The court recognizes the emotional difficulty a spouse goes through during an illness and death of a family member, but such circumstances cannot excuse the conduct of counsel herein," Quackenbush wrote.

"The claims of disbursements were not accurate and those claims were not the result of inadvertent mistakes. They were, at a minimum, made with a reckless disregard for their accuracy or even intentionally false."

Quackenbush ordered a new timesheet with his revisions and will consider "reasonable percentage suggestions" for the firm's award.

A judge in Oregon rejected Bull's claimed travel expenses in a different case in 2007.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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