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Crasnick v. Marquez

Superior Court of California, Appellate Division, Los Angeles

May 24, 2016

DONALD CRASNICK, as Trustee, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
JESUS MARQUEZ et al., Defendants and Respondents.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County Central Trial Court No.14U07629, Robert S. Harrison, Commissioner.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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         COUNSEL

         Law Offices of Lisa S. Ehrlich and Lisa S. Erhlich for Plaintiff and Appellant Donald Crasnick.

         BASTA, Inc., Daniel J. Bramzon, Ross T. Kutash, and Claudia Medina for Defendants and Respondents Jesus Marquez and Milagro Diaz.

         OPINION

         RICCIARDULLI, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Judgment was rendered against plaintiff Donald Crasnick, Trustee of the 1979 Ehrlich Investment Trust (Crasnick), in his unlawful detainer action against defendants Jesus Marquez (Marquez) and Milagro Diaz (Diaz). The court subsequently granted Diaz’s motion for attorney fees. Crasnick obtained money awards in a separate subsequent unlawful detainer judgment and a small claims action judgment against Marquez and Diaz, and then filed a motion to set off the attorney fees award with the two judgments. The court denied the motion to set off and Crasnick appealed.

         As discussed below, we affirm. The trial court correctly determined the lien on the attorney fees created pursuant to Diaz’s retainer agreement with her lawyer, Deepika Sharma of Public Counsel (Sharma), had priority over Crasnick’s judgments in his favor, and Crasnick failed to show the court

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abused its discretion in finding it would be inequitable to set off the attorney fees award with the judgments.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On June 23, 2014, Crasnick filed an unlawful detainer action against Marquez and Diaz for failure to pay rent for their apartment, and on July 21, 2014, Diaz agreed to be represented by Sharma in the action. Pursuant to the written retainer agreement, Diaz would not be charged for the legal services provided. However, Diaz agreed that Sharma would “receiv[e] the attorney’s fees awarded to [her] by any Court, or paid by the opposing party, in the Case.” On September 3, 2014, the court granted Diaz’s motion for summary judgment and, on December 19, 2014, granted Diaz’s motion for attorney fees pursuant to Civil Code section 1717 and the attorney fees provision in the underlying property’s lease. The court awarded $6, 245 in attorney fees.

         On June 9, 2015, Crasnick filed his motion for equitable setoff. Crasnick maintained he filed a second unlawful detainer action against Marquez and Diaz on October 9, 2014, for failing to pay rent for the same apartment as in his first action. Neither defendant was represented by counsel, and a default judgment was entered against them on November 13, 2014, awarding Crasnick restitution of the apartment, forfeiture of the lease, and $5, 281.42 in damages. Crasnick also alleged he filed a small claims action against Marquez and Diaz on January 8, 2015, for damage caused to the apartment during the tenancy, and on March 2, 2015, a judgment was entered awarding him $1, 096. Crasnick argued the damages awarded in the second unlawful detainer and in the small claims action should set off the attorney fees award in the first unlawful detainer. Diaz filed an opposition to the motion, ...


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