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July 25, 2012 / Admin

What is Reasonable Reimbursement?

In a recent decision, California state court Judge Brett Klein ordered attorneys fees be paid to plaintiffs’ counsel in the form of gift cards for defendant’s retail store. What makes this order more unusual than the form of payment? Plaintiffs’ attorney is a male, and defendant is a women’s apparel retailer.

The class action asserted that Windsor Fashions was committing routine violations of the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act, and sought compensation for “all customers who, between November 29, 2006 and November 18, 2008, purchased merchandise from Defendant’s stores in the State of California, used a credit card to make the purchase(s), and whose address, E mail address or telephone number was requested and recorded by a Winsor Fashions employee.”

At the time of Judge Klein’s decision, preliminary approval of settlement had already been granted by Judge Susan Bryant-Deason, who was presiding over the case at the time. The preliminary approval order called for payment to the class in the form of $10 gift vouchers and $125,000 to class counsel in reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

On the day of the final approval hearing, Judge Bryant-Deason was ill, and Judge Klein took the bench in her absence. Judge Klein not only went against Judge Bryant-Deason’s preliminary approval order and changed the terms of the settlement after the final approval hearing, but according to state Commission on Judicial Performance, he “engaged in a pattern of sarcasm and improper remarks toward the attorneys.”

Judges generally have discretion to determine what is and what is not considered fair and reasonable for attorneys’ fees. However, judges do not have unfettered ability to rule outside the scope of acceptable practice. The state Commission on Judicial Performance ultimately barred Judge Klein from presiding over future court cases and from receiving any state court-referred work.




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