Class action lawyer sanctioned, asked to resign over expense reports

By John O'Brien | Aug 1, 2012


SPOKANE, Wash. (Legal Newsline) - A class action lawyer found to have submitted misleading expense reports to a federal court has been sanctioned and asked to resign by her firm's governing members.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush entered an order of reproval last week, officially conveying his disapproval of attorney Joy Bull's actions. Quackenbush said the order was his first disciplinary action in 33 years as a judge.

Bull and John Grant, who was deemed "less culpable" and received only an admonition, are attorneys at Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd. The firm was pursuing a class action against the student-travel company Ambassadors Group.

A judge in Oregon rejected Bull's claimed travel expenses in a different case in 2007. In the Ambassadors case, she said her attentions were diverted by her husband's sickness and death, leading to accounting errors.

"Ms. Bull's experience in similar matters in other courts, including a finding of misleading statements, referenced in other Orders of this court, should have caused Ms. Bull to avoid ever again being in the position of having to defend unsubstantiated or misleading expense claims," Quackenbush wrote Thursday.

"While the court understands the grief involved in the loss of a close family member, that fact does not convince the court that Declarations of counsel under the penalty of perjury containing inaccurate and untrue statements filed many months after a family death, can be excused thereby."

Quackenbush added that Bull planned to retire from the firm on Tuesday at the request of her firm's governing members. His order of reproval will be forwarded to the California State Bar Association for inclusion in her records.

The firm was not sanctioned. It scheduled a seminar for all its attorneys and employees covering billing, expense and timekeeping procedures.

The firm was 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 tickets 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 in May, 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 said that at a maximum she should claim 95. Grant should claim a maximum of 40 for preparing the amended complaint, he added.

In approving the settlement in June, he awarded attorneys fees of $1,628,000 and expenses of $99,846.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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