Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Barry and Wendy Have a Date in Court

By Craig

In terms of attorney and client they seemed like a perfect match for each other. He is one of Santa Barbara's most powerful lawyers with a reputation for taking no prisoners when it comes to representing his clients. She is one of the wealthiest women in Santa Barbara if not the entire world with a reputation for taking no prisoners when it comes to having it her way. But now they're battling over money. Barry Cappello's lawsuit against a corporation and a trust controlled by News-Press owner Wendy McCaw appears headed to trial later this month.

The parties have a date in Santa Barbara Superior Court this coming Friday, April 5, for a readiness and settlement conference and if the case doesn't settle they will be back in court on April 23 for what is estimated to be a five day trial.

The dispute is over several hundred thousands of dollars that Cappello claims the McCaw entities owe his law firm. Cappello's bill to Amperpsand Publishing, the parent company of the Santa Barbara News-Press, for unpaid fees of $168,000 is actually one of the claims that is not going to trial but instead will be sent to arbitration. The trial will be over whether Barry's firm is entitled to unpaid fees racked up in representing the Stanford Farms Trust (which I assume is the entity that actually holds title to McCaw's personal residence) in a dispute with the Hope Ranch Association, for representing the Pescadero Point Trust in litigation over the construction of a swimming pool at a residence on the 17-Mile Drive in Carmel, and for representing Georgetown Aviation Associates, which I believe owns a private plane that McCaw uses for travel.

The fee agreements that are attached to Cappello's complaint show that he was charging between $600 and $750 an hour for work he personally did on these various matters. The time spent by less-experienced associate attorneys employed by Cappello's firm was billed out at $300 per hour. (By the way, isn't $300 an hour about the same a plumber would charge to come out to your house on Thanksgiving day?)

I'm a lawyer myself so, it should come as no surprise that I like to see lawyers get paid. I guess that might explain why, in my view at least, McCaw's excuses for not paying seem flimsier than a pair of Lululemon yoga pants.

Last month, Cappello tried to short circuit the trial process by making a motion for summary judgment. However, Judge Thomas Anderle denied the motion holding there were defects in the proof that Cappello offered to support the motion.

I'm betting Cappello will have cured those defects in his proof when it's time for trial. It will be interesting to see what McCaw's lawyer, David Millstein of San Francisco comes up with to counter that evidence. It may not be the trial of the century, but it will surely be the trial of this spring.