Never lose faith, oh lawyers for whom contingencies are both bread and butter: It only took about eight years or so, but the San Francisco Housing Authority is finally, finally paying up for some verdicts it lost in the earliest part of this decade. Which means some local lawyers and, of course, their clients, are finally, finally getting paid the ga-millions they've been owed for, oh, years now.
A whole passel of judges and justices coming down on the SFHA hadn't done the trick last we knew, so what finally did? After the jump ...
The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that the SFHA handed over $3.2 million this week to help pay down the $12 million plaintiff lawyer Thomas Brandi (above left) won back in 2001, in a wrongful death case pegged to a tragic housing fire.
We reported a very long time ago how his was one of three separate cases going through a ridiculous appellate odyssey to collect from the SFHA. And by ridiculous, we mean that it wasn't that the courts kept disagreeing with each other -- it's just that the housing authority would never listen to them.
The SFHA had by that point, after a few years and much cajoling, paid $2.7 million toward Brandi’s case using insurance money. But then the agency essentially cried poor, and argued ad nauseum that it couldn’t possibly come up with more money, given its regular obligations to its tenants and a lot of bureaucratic red tape over its federal funding.
In the end, as the Chronicle tells it, the impasse didn’t really break until the SFHA chief was replaced by first an interim director, and then a permanent one, and they sold a bunch of property to come up with more cash. As one of the plaintiff lawyers told us today, the injection of some outside counsel — in the form of ex-city attorney Louise Renne — also helped.
We’re not totally clear from the Chron story if there were any other payments for Brandi’s case between the long-ago $2.7 million and the latest $3.2 million, and we couldn’t reach Brandi right away this afternoon. But we did manage to get Stephen Murphy (above right), a plaintiff employment lawyer who finally collected last year — in full — for one of the other cases.
His fight involved what had initially been a $75,000 judgment, plus $125,000 in fees, from a sexual harassment case.
By the time that got paid for last summer, he tells us, the grand total was about $819,000, including interest and all of the fees from the appellate rounds. Also by that time, the agency had Mirian Saez acting as director, and had brought in Renne. Both, Murphy said, were very active in getting the whole thing resolved.
“It was a long wait. [My client's] case was tried in 2000, so that was eight years and something like five appeals,” said Murphy, the newish president of the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association. None of the lawyers, who worked on contingency, got paid till last summer, he noted. But their fees alone ultimately topped $500,000. (Though, alas, it wasn’t all for his small law office — he had co-counsel at both the trial and the appellate levels.)
— Pam Smith