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Order that law firm pay attorney fees reversed

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed today an order awarding attorneys fees based on the actions of an Indianapolis law firm in a dispute involving the dissolution of another firm, finding the record didn't provide any insight into why the trial court granted the award.

In James W. Smyth v. Judy G. Hester and the Estate of Timothy P. Brazill; Plews Shadley Racher & Braun, as intervenor, No. 29A02-0803-CV-237, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun appealed the trial court order awarding attorney fees to Judy Hester and the Estate of Timothy P. Brazill. Hester, Brazill, and James Smyth practiced law together under the partnership Smyth Brazill Hester until Smyth advised the other two partners their partnership was over. A month later, Brazill died and Smyth and Hester were unable to agree as to how to end the partnership.

Smyth retained Plews as counsel to represent him in his complaint against Hester and Brazill's estate seeking damages, an accounting, and the appointment of receiver over SBH based upon alleged breach of fiduciary duties by Hester and Brazill. The estate also alleged breach of fiduciary duty and conversion against Smyth and requested an accounting and declaratory judgment. Hester counterclaimed against Smyth alleging breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing, and conversion, and also requested for accounting.

The estate and Hester filed a motion for attorney fees and costs against Plews and Smyth because they believed Smyth and the firm were litigating a frivolous, unreasonable, and groundless claim in bad faith. The trial court found their actions in litigating the matters illustrated "their frivolous, unreasonable, and bad faith conduct in this case."

The Court of Appeals agreed in general with Plews' argument on appeal that the trial court order contained no finding of fact to support the judgment for attorney fees. None of the findings of fact contain a specific reference to a problematic litigation action and none of the conclusions of law reflect the legal authority and standard for an attorney fee award, wrote Judge Carr Darden.

"We acknowledge that the record may include some questionable litigation tactics that might support the trial court's exercise of its discretion to award attorney fees," the judge wrote. "However, our review in that regard is impaired by the fact that the order appealed does not provide us with any insight as to the trial court's reason for the award of attorney fees in this case, i.e., what the trial court found to be frivolous, unreasonable, and bad faith conduct. Accordingly, we remand to the trial court for further consideration and explanation of its judgment in that regard."

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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