Blockbilling Did Not Result in Punishment Based On Unique Case Circumstances.
Jaramillo v. County of Orange, Case Nos. G043142/G043813 (4th Dist., Div. 3 Nov. 8, 2011) (certified for publication) is likely the last real publicity upshot from Orange County’s appeal of a $183,689 back pay award to former Orange County Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo and its appeal of an injunction in the wake of the Mike Carona scandal. Aside from the merits relief, the trial court (Judge Andrew P. Banks) awarded Jaramillo’s lawyers $8,400 in costs and $336,800 in fees under California’s private attorney general statute (CCP § 1021.5).
Orange County’s appeals of the merits/fee awards were unsuccessful, in a 3-0 opinion authored by Acting Presiding Justice Rylaarsdam.
Because the state court judgment and federal court’s restitution order were in sync after a Ninth Circuit reversal of a conviction, there was no reason to not award fees on an entitlement basis. Although arguing that the merits judgment did not benefit a large class of people, the appellate court disagreed. The injunction entered in the case did protect certain executive level sheriffs and tended to prevent corruption in the sheriff’s office by not quelling a whistleblower through at “at will” employment termination.
That shifted things to a scrutiny of whether the amount of the award was excessive. O.C. argued that the fee award should be substantially discounted because of vague blockbilled entries, with the Court of Appeal acknowledging that entries were indeed vague and filled with blockbilling. Although finding that such entries can be problematical in 1021.5 cases where apportionment is necessary, this case was not one of them for two reasons: (1) the vague entries were necessitated by lawyers’ efforts to safeguard work product and strategies in the federal criminal case; and (2) the work was substantially interrelated. The appellate court also found a 15% multiplier was apt, because lawyers handled the matter on a contingency fee basis and they faced public outlash from their involvement in this and related cases.