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Rebecca A. Rickley, et al v. Marvin Goodfriend

July 30, 2012

REBECCA A. RICKLEY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
MARVIN GOODFRIEND, ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Norman P. Tarle, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SC098072)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Woods, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed and remanded.

Rebecca A. Rickley and Natasha Roit (collectively referred to as appellants) appeal from an order denying attorney's fees to Roit, an attorney, for enforcing post-judgment contempt proceedings against respondents Marvin Goodfriend and Tina Fasbender Goodfriend. Although the court awarded attorney fees to Roit's co-counsel, it denied the request as to Roit, citing a lack of California authority to support an award of fees to a pro se attorney. Appellants contend the rule against awarding fees to a pro se plaintiff should not apply in contempt proceedings or that Roit should be able to recover fees for representing her spouse. We reverse and remand.

FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Appellants, who are married, own a home in Malibu over the Pacific Coast Highway. They filed a nuisance action in Superior Court against neighboring homeowners and respondents Marvin Goodfriend and Tina Fasbender Goodfriend (collectively respondents, individually referred to as Goodfriend and Fasbender). Respondents performed an illegal unpermitted remodel, after which they buried construction trash and debris on the hillside of their and appellants' properties, in a landslide sensitive area. In May 2004, Roit, on behalf of herself and Rickley, filed a case against respondents and Shahriar Yazdani to abate the nuisance and for violation of CC&Rs (Case No. SC081696). Judgment was entered on February 2006 by Judge Cesar Sarmiento to abate the nuisance (the First Judgment).

Appellants, again represented by Roit, filed another action against respondents for nuisance and violation of CC&Rs based upon the encroachment of fences and foliage on appellants' property (Case No. SC098072). Judgment was entered in that case in April 2010 by Judge Norman Tarle (the Second Judgment).

Respondents failed to comply with the terms of the Second Judgment, and appellants filed charging affidavits of contempt in August 2010. Roit enlisted the aid of another attorney, Christopher Campbell. Respondents did not take any responsive action or respond to appellants' request for informal resolution or comply with the court's order. The court issued a post-judgment order (as to the Second Judgment), directing respondents to make changes in the property and to file weekly progress reports. Respondents did not comply with that order and rejected all informal requests for compliance.

After a contempt trial which lasted over several days, the court issued its judgment and order of contempt on February 22, 2011. It found respondents guilty on three counts, fined them $3,000 each, and sentenced Goodfriend to three days in jail.

On March 21, 2011, appellants filed a motion for attorneys fees pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1218.*fn1 They requested $40,005 fees for Roit and $1,800 for Campbell. Campbell charged $375 per hour for 4.8 hours for a total of $1,800, and Roit charged $450 for 88.9 hours, for a total of $40,005.

In their opposition, respondents did not challenge the necessity or reasonableness of the hours or the hourly rates. Respondents questioned the apportionment of the fees requested because findings of guilt were made on only three of nine charges and because portions of the trial were allegedly not related to contempt matters.

On May 3, 2011, the court issued its ruling, which included the following findings:

* "The object of this rule [§ 1218] is to 'encourage parties to prosecute contempt proceedings' (and 'indirectly encourage all parties to abide by the terms of court orders generally')."

* "Here, as was made clear by the evidence reviewed by the court prior to rendering its judgment for contempt on February 22, 2011, defendants essentially disregarded the court's ...


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