Reversal: Fired lawyer cannot seek attorney fees ‘separate and apart’ from client

A Crown Point attorney who was fired by her client in a long-running juvenile paternity case had no right to then intervene in the case to seek an award of attorney fees from the opposing party, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday, reversing the trial court.

The panel reversed a decision of the Lake Superior Court awarding attorney fees to attorney Tula Kavadias. She had represented mother Kara A. Davis in a paternity action against father Gregory Brown. Davis had asked the court for an order of attorney fees against Brown, but before the court ruled, Davis fired Kavadias, withdrew her request for appellate attorney fees from Brown and filed an agreed order with Brown in which he would pay a portion of mother’s attorney fees.

Despite the agreement, a special judge in Lake Superior Court permitted Kavadias to intervene and ordered Brown to pay nearly $50,000, or almost all of Davis’ attorney fees, in litigation that included multiple appeals. Brown brought the instant appeal.

“We reverse,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the Court of Appeals in In the Paternity of C.B. and S.B. Gregory W. Brown v. Kara A. Davis, and Tula Kavadias, Jill Swope, 19A-JP-1618. “An attorney cannot litigate an award of attorney fees ‘separate and apart’ from the client. Accordingly, once Mother withdrew her petition for appellate attorney fees from Father, Mother’s attorney was not allowed to seek fees from Father on her own. We therefore reverse the trial court’s order and remand this case with instructions for the court to order Father to pay a portion of Mother’s attorney fees in accordance with their agreed order. To the extent Mother’s attorney is still owed fees, she may seek them from Mother.”

The panel rejected Kavidias’ argument that she had a right to intervene and request attorney fees from the opposing party under I.C. 31-14-18-2.

“Kavadias believes that this statute gives her the right to pursue attorney fees against Father even though Mother fired her and withdrew her petitions. But this statute only provides that attorneys may enforce attorney-fee orders in their own name; it does not authorize attorneys to request attorney fees in their own name,” Vaidik wrote.

“… Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s June 2019 order and remand this case to the trial court. On remand, the trial court shall approve all parts of the agreed order, including Father’s agreement to pay $6,500 of Mother’s attorney fees for the first appeal and $1,000 of Mother’s attorney fees for the second appeal. To the extent Kavadias is still owed attorney fees for her services in the paternity case, she may seek them from Mother, her client,” the panel concluded.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}