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Indian Tribe Asks To Lower Attorney Fees in Embezzlement Scheme

August 15, 2021 | Posted in : Ability to Pay, Billing Record / Entries, Expenses / Costs, Fee Award, Fee Dispute, Fee Request, Hours Billled

A recent Law 360 story by Diamond Naga Siu, “Paskenta Band Asks To Lower Embezzlement Suit Atty Fees”, reports that the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians asked a California federal judge to lower the attorney fees it owes to banks it accused of helping former tribal leaders carry out a wide-reaching, multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme, arguing some fees were "not reasonably expended."  Cornerstone Community Bank and Umpqua Bank in late July each filed requests for the judge to respectively approve $277,340 and $756,882.20 in attorney fees and other costs after the judge dropped the tribe's claims and granted the banks compensation for the proceedings.

But the Paskenta Band in its dual oppositions slammed the banks for filing attorney fee requests and flouting its "repeated, good faith efforts" to pay the debts.  In light of the extra time billed for the recent motions, Paskenta Band asked the judge to shave $16,380.50 from Umpqua's request and $12,425 from Cornerstone's.  "Cornerstone cannot provide a legitimate justification for this motion.  Rather than engage with the Tribe's counsel's good faith attempts to avoid motion practice in favor of stipulating to Cornerstone's fees and costs after reviewing its billing records, Cornerstone rushed to the courthouse," the Paskenta Band wrote.

"The Tribe respectfully requests that the Court reduce Umpqua's requested fee award by $16,380.50 — the amount its records show were expended on this motion — in addition to any fees and costs that Umpqua spends preparing a reply brief or for hearing on the motion," it added in the other filing.  John Friedemann of Friedemann Goldberg LLP, counsel for Cornerstone, told Law360 in a phone interview that given the long history of the case in dealing with opposing counsel, the motion was going to be necessary.

"There was no reason to think that we would be able to achieve an amicable stipulation, especially when at the very time, counsel was reneging on an assurance that prior award would be paid within five days of becoming final and was now announcing that was not going to happen," Friedemann said.  "The payment would be made some time in the future in a single check," he added, referencing a sassy email exchange submitted as a declaration between him and Paskenta Band's counsel, where the tribe's attorney said it would only make one payment to cover multiple awards.