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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CNMI govt, Jorgensen reached deal on attorney’s fees

The CNMI government and Betty Johnson’s original counsel, Bruce Jorgensen, have reached an agreement on the latter’s petition for attorney’s fees and costs.

There is a strong possibility that the evidentiary hearing in Johnson’s other counsels’ petitions for attorneys’ fees and costs, currently set for Friday, Jan. 31, will not push through as settlement talks between the CNMI government and Johnson’s other counsels are making progress.

According to the minutes of a telephone status conference on Thursday, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood expressed concerns regarding Jorgensen’s most recent application for attorneys’ fees.

Attorney Mitchell F. Thompson, who is representing Jorgensen, disclosed that Jorgensen and the CNMI government had reached a settlement as of late Wednesday, and that he is now preparing the paperwork for review and approval.

Assistant attorney general Teresita Sablan, counsel for the CNMI government, confirmed that an agreement was reached with Jorgensen.

Details of that agreement were not divulged.

As for Johnson’s local counsel, Stephen C. Woodruff, Woodruff disclosed that the CNMI government made him a counteroffer and that the government is awaiting his response.

Woodruff hopes to settle before the evidentiary hearing.

On Johnson’s other counsel Timothy Lord’s petition, Sablan told the court that the CNMI government has received Lord’s proposal, which she will review and respond.

Pertaining to the petition of Johnson’s Hawaii-based counsel, Bronster Hoshibata law firm, Margery Bronster told the court last week that they and the CNMI government have continued to pursue agreement on their individual petitions. Bronster said they are hopeful it will be successful.

Bronster recently disclosed to the court that Johnson’s counsels have failed to come up with a unified petition for attorneys’ fees and costs by last Wednesday’s deadline.

She informed the court that despite diligent effort and the indefatigable assistance of Hawaii Chief Bankruptcy Judge Robert J. Faris as a mediator, their law firm has been unable to reach an agreement on a fair and reasonable allocation of fees between itself and co-class counsels Jorgensen, Woodruff, and Lord.

Worse, Bronster disclosed that Jorgensen’s invoices are “virtually incomprehensible and too vague and cryptic to enable any reasoned judgment as to the legitimate work, if any, the might effect.”

Tydingco-Gatewood ordered the parties to advise the court at their next telephonic status conference on Jan. 28 whether they were able to reach final settlement.

On Thursday, Jorgensen filed a “unified statement” in support of his fee petition, saying he has conveyed to his co-counsel, Lord, that for purposes of facilitating compromise, he is amenable to a 7 percent cut in hours and fees, which in turn would establish his total billable hours as 3,678.7 hours and total fees as $1,195,580.10. Jorgensen’s initial request was at least $18.6 million.

Bronster recommended that the only way to measure Jorgensen’s contribution in the case is by giving him 10 percent of the total attorney’s fees that the court determines are reasonable.

She also recommended awarding Woodruff $400,000 for his work.

With respect to Lord, Bronster said their law firm could not come to an agreement with Lord because by the time they entered this case, Lord had ceased participating in the case.

Bronster Hoshibata is seeking $17.5 million; Lord is asking for either $3.6 million or $5.9 million; and Woodruff is requesting for $2.9 million.

Under the settlement agreement, the CNMI government will shoulder the attorneys’ fees and costs of Johnson’s counsels upon the court’s approval.

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