A dispute over legal fees is gaining attention in Florida as its courts are examining whether attorneys need expert witnesses to corroborate their requests for legal fees.
The case began as a fee dispute between the Law Offices of Granoff & Kessler and its client, Richard Randal Glass. Attorney Roy E. Granoff was attempting to collect fees owed to him under a retainer agreement for his representation of Glass. The parties had an agreement that provided for an initial retainer plus $325 per hour for out-of-court services and $375 per hour for time spent in court. The total amount of the dispute was $34,345.
Granoff sued Glass in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The Miami-Dade Circuit Court ruled that Granoff needed an independent expert to provide testimony to validate his fees. Granoff appealed.
Third District Court of Appeal
On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the circuit court’s decision and ruled in favor of Granoff. The court remanded the case back to trial court to enter a judgment in Granoff’s favor. The court also certified a conflict with Florida’s Second District of Appeal’s decision in Snow v. Harlan Bakeries Inc.
Mark Goldstein, attorney for Glass, announced that he plans to ask for a rehearing en banc before all of the judges of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. Goldstein claims that the appellate court’s decision “gutted a lot of law.”
Goldstein stated, “They essentially held when a lawyer directly sues his client for breach of contract, the rules of requiring a corroborating expert witness don’t apply.”
Granoff disagrees with Goldstein. He notes that his case has an important distinction. He said, “I was seeking it in the separate breach-of-contract action, and the case law holds you do not need an expert witness. Glass owed me attorney fees. I sued him in a separate lawsuit just for the fees he owed me. When I do it that way, I do not need an expert witness corroborating the fees.”
Granoff gave the following example as a comparison, “If there was an architect and he sued for fees, he would not have to bring in another architect to testify to the reasonableness to the fees. If there was a doctor, he wouldn’t have to bring in another doctor. But with lawyers, the law had been they have to bring in another lawyer.”
Granoff argued that this process makes no sense because an attorney would simply “bring an attorney friend of his who is going to testify to say his fees are reasonable.” He cited a Florida Bar Journal article by Robert J. Hauser, Raymond E. Kramer III, and Patricia A. Leonard, “Is Expert Testimony Really Needed in Attorneys’ Fees Litigation?,” where the authors opined that the “practice is cumbersome and unnecessary, and should no longer be required.”
Granoff noted that several attorneys have reached out to him and expressed an interest in representing him on appeal, intending to take this matter all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.