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Firm Can't Withdraw From Case Despite Unpaid Legal Bills

December 12, 2011 | Posted in : Ethics & Professional Responsibility, Unpaid Fees

A recent NLJ story, “Defense Counsel May Not Pull out of Patent Case Despite Client’s Nonpayment” reports that a federal magistrate judge has denied a bid by a Minneapolis firm Leffert Jay & Polglaze to withdrawal from a patent case despite the fact that its client hasn’t paid nearly $278,000 in legal bills.  Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham of the District of Minnesota denied Leffert’s motion to withdraw from representing Quest Optical Inc. in a case against it brought by Walman Optical Co.

In the underlying case, Walman sued Quest for infringing its patent for an abrasion-resistant coating for eyeglasses.  District Judge Patrick Schilitz entered a judgment in August, finding, finding that Quest infringed Walman’s patent and that Walman’s patent is valid and enforceable.  The injunction bars Quest from making, using, importing, offering to sell or selling in the U.S. any product that infringe Walman’s patent. 

According to court documents, Leffert claimed that Quest owes it $277,749 in legal fees.  Walman Optical opposed the motion to withdrawal on the ground that it would be prejudiced by Laffert’s withdrawal if Quest Optical fails to move forward with the discovery ordered by Schilitz.

Withdrawal of counsel without substitution requires “good cause,” or nonpayment of fees plus an additional aggravating circumstance such as showing that the client doesn’t want that lawyer’s representation, Graham wrote.  Graham added that the court is sympathetic to Laffert’s position that there’s a significant amount of money at stake, particularly since the firm only has seven lawyers.  “The case is so near completion, however, that the Court finds that continued representation by [Leffert] does not constitute an ‘unreasonable burden,’” Graham wrote.