A recent New Jersey Law Journal story by Charles Toutant, “Novel Holding in New Jersey: Law Firm Awarded $10M After Withdrawing From Case,” reports that a New Jersey judge has awarded $10 million to the law firm of Kirsch, Gelband & Stone in a fee dispute stemming from a $125 million personal injury settlement of a suit by a lawyer who was left paralyzed by a falling utility pole. Although Kirsch Gelband was ultimately replaced by another firm, it had a key role in developing evidence that yielded such a large settlement, Essex County Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena said.
The ruling, giving a law firm that withdrew from representation a share of successor counsel’s legal fees, based on its contribution toward the recovery, is a novel holding in New Jersey, Vena said. The ruling gives Kirsch Gelband a 40% cut of the $25 million awarded to its successor in the case, Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman.
The case stems from a 2017 accident in which Maria Moser Meister was left paralyzed and brain damaged after a deteriorating utility pole fell on her on a street in Union City. At the time of the accident, Meister was general counsel for finance firm Milberg Factors in New York, and previously had been an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. David Mazie of Mazie Slater obtained the $125 million settlement in May 2020, calling it the largest settlement in New Jersey history.
Vena found that Kirsch Gelband’s Gregg Alan Stone had a stormy relationship with Meister’s husband, Peter, who would contact him at all hours. Finding that Stone had a justifiable cause to withdraw, the judge found that Kirsch Gelband was entitled to a calculation of how much of the fee the firm deserves.
Vena concluded that “the nature of and deterioration of the attorney/client relationship, exhibited throughout the hearing, justified Mr. Stone’s good-faith belief that the representation could not ethically be continued.” Vena said a “balancing of predecessor and successor contribution” was needed to decide Stone’s cut of the fees. Bruce Nagel of Nagel Rice, who represents Kirsch Gelband, says that “in view of Mr. Mazie’s position that Kirsch Gelband was entitled to zero, we are extremely pleased with the $10 million award.”
But additional proceedings are underway between Mazie Slater and Kirsch Gelband. Nagel and Mazie have a long history of acrimony. The two are former law partners who frequently face each other as litigation adversaries. Their rancor dates back to when Mazie split with Nagel to start his own firm in 2006. Mazie took cases with him that led to disputes over counsel fees.
Nagel said evidence in the case supported his claim, raised in a separate suit pending against Mazie Slater by Kirsch Gelband, that Mazie provided false information to Meister in order to get the case. Mazie called that claim “nonsensical.”
Nagel also said he was filing an additional motion in the Verizon case to vacate a deal between Mazie and Philip Rosenbach, a lawyer who handled the case before Stone, in which Mazie purchased the other lawyer’s right to receive a referral fee from Kirsch Gelband. Such a deal is “highly unethical and highly improper,” Nagel said. But Mazie said Rosenbach “chose to resolve his claim for that one-third referral fee by settling with us rather than being embroiled in this frivolous litigation,” and added that there’s “nothing unethical about it.”