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Are Attorney Fee Experts Needed to Prove Fees in Florida?

April 8, 2020 | Posted in : Fee Agreement, Fee Dispute, Fee Expert / Member, Fee Issues on Appeal, Hourly Rates

A recent Daily Business Review story by Michael Mora, “Lawyers are Watching This Florida Appeal About Expert Witnesses and Legal Fees,” reports that Roy E. Granoff says attorneys are lining up to represent him in a case to decide if attorneys need expert witnesses to corroborate their requests for legal fee.  The Miami attorney triumphed before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal but is gearing for a challenge.  The appellate court ruled in favor of Granoff, a partner at the Law Offices of Granoff & Kessler, in a fee dispute with Richard Randal Glass over $34,345.  It also certified a conflict with Florida’s Second District of Appeal’s decision in Snow v. Harlan Bakeries Inc.

“Our position is he did not provide an expert to say that one dime of what he did was reasonable, necessary, required and things like that,” said Mark Goldstein, the lawyer for Glass.  “Without that, we don’t think he has proven his case.  Since he’s not proven his case – the trial judge agreed with us — and we’re entitled to judgment in our favor.”

The appellate panel reversed a Miami-Dade Circuit Court decision that required Granoff to have an independent expert provide testimony validating his fees.  It then sent the case back to the trial court to enter a judgment in Granoff’s favor.  But attorney Goldstein plans to ask the panel for a rehearing en banc before all judges of the Third District Court of Appeal, arguing that the appellate court’s decision “gutted a lot of law.

“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,” Goldstein said.  But Granoff disagrees.  He said there’s an important nuance in his case: He was looking to collect fees owed under his retainer agreement for a separate lawsuit and not for his representation of Glass in divorce court.

“I was seeking it in the separate breach-of-contract action, and the case law holds you do not need an expert witness,” Granoff said.  “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.”

The Third DCA opinion shows the parties had agreement that provided for an initial retainer, plus hourly fees for out-of-court services at $325 an hour and in-court time at $375.  Granoff suggests other lawyers agree with him.  He said several appellate attorneys reached out to express an interest in representing him on appeal, with the intention of taking it up to the Florida Supreme Court. Granoff

“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 said, citing an article by Robert Hauser III in the Florida Bar Journal, which suggested the protocol makes no sense.  “What is an attorney going to do?  He is going to bring an attorney friend of his who is going to testify to say his fees are reasonable.”