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NJ Law Firm Wins Challenge to Attorney Fee Award

May 4, 2021 | Posted in : Fee Award, Fee Entitlement / Recoverability, Fee Issues on Appeal, Fees & Arbitration, Unpaid Fees

A recent Law 360 story by Nick Muscavage, “Genova Burns Beats Ex-Client’s Challenge To Fee Award,” reports that a New Jersey appellate court has found that Genova Burns LLC is still entitled to a roughly $73,000 judgment for unpaid legal services after the firm's former client tried to convince the panel that its attempts to vacate the judgment were wrongly blocked by a lower court.  Newark, New Jersey-based Genova Burns was awarded a $73,335 judgment from an arbitrator for legal services provided to the Morris Canal Redevelopment Area Community Development Corp. and its executive director, June Jones.

The appellate panel, in its opinion issued April 28, found that the lower court was correct when it determined the Morris Canal redevelopment corporation could not escape the judgment because it failed to establish "excusable neglect" on behalf of Genova Burns.  The judgment was awarded in a June 2018 arbitration hearing that was held after 13 adjournments over the course of a year.  Neither the Morris Canal corporation nor its counsel appeared at the arbitration, according to the appellate opinion.

An attorney for the Morris Canal corporation filed a demand for a trial de novo a month after the arbitrator's decision, but because it had not appeared at the arbitration, the corporation was "deemed to have waived the right to demand a trial de novo."  The corporation also filed a motion to vacate the arbitration's default judgment.

Benjamin Morton, the attorney who filed the motion to vacate the arbitrator's judgment, claimed he was not able to attend the arbitration because he was working on another trial and had requested an additional adjournment, according to the appellate panel's opinion.  The lower court denied Morton's motion because it did not include an attorney certification, proposed form of order or certification service, and was also filed in an improper venue.  Additionally, Morton was not the counsel of record for the Morris Canal corporation at the time of the arbitration or when he filed the motion to vacate, according to the appellate opinion.