A Los Angeles Supreme Court judge ordered an attorney who worked on an erroneous billing lawsuit against the Department of Water and Energy to reimburse the $ 1.65 million in fees he was charged on the case earned.
The attorney, Michael Libman, was also sentenced to pay more than $ 116,000 in penalties. He was cited for contempt of court and fined $ 44,000 by Judge Elihu M. Berle.
The Berle ruling marks another significant disciplinary measure in litigation resulting from the DWP overcharging debacle. Berle fined the city of Los Angeles $ 2.5 million last year after discovering that the city and its attorneys misused the discovery process in a related case because of the accounting errors.
At a court hearing on Thursday, Libman denied the wrongdoing, telling Berle that he was the target of “medieval persecution”.
Libman said Friday he is weighing an appeal against the judge’s instructions. “All orders are incompetent, illegal and inadmissible on many levels, and violate my due process and other constitutional rights,” said Libman.
Brian Kabateck, attorney for DWP clients who filed a class action lawsuit against the utility in 2015, moved for Libman’s fees and other penalties to be waived.
Libman used to be one of the class lawyers before Berle removed him in 2019.
The lead plaintiff, Antwon Jones, had received an inflated DWP bill and sued the city, resulting in a $ 67 million settlement for DWP customers. Libman was serving as a local attorney on the case as Jones’ other attorney worked outside of the state.
The FBI searched the DWP and the city’s law firm in July 2019, looking for information related to the billing dispute. Separately, Berle appointed an investigator to investigate the settlement and the fees paid to lawyers in the case.
About $ 19 million in legal fees was paid out, including Libman’s portion. All the money came from the DWP, said Rob Wilcox, City Atty spokesman. Mike fire.
“We believe the court was right to conclude that Mr. Libman should reimburse the legal fees received,” Wilcox said Friday.
Kabateck argued in his motion that Libman had not disclosed his relationships with other lawyers in the case and lied about his references and the amount of work he had done on the case. Libman also failed to get Jones’ approval to share the fees with another attorney on the case, the motion said.
Questions about attorney roles and attorney payments were first asked after PricewaterhouseCoopers – which sued the city in a similar case over the DWP settlement debacle – found evidence that the city had a system to control the outcome of the Class action brought.
Fire officials have denied that the city was involved in or knowledge of the alleged system and accused outside lawyers it had hired. These lawyers have denied wrongdoing. One said his work was done on the orders of the prosecutor.
The city had previously filed its own motion to reclaim some of the legal fees on the case, but that lawsuit is on hold pending investigation by the U.S. Attorney General, Wilcox said.