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Monday, April 21, 2014

Lengthy hearing on petition for attorney’s fees, costs

U.S. District Court for the NMI designated judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood held yesterday a lengthy evidentiary hearing on the petition of Betty Johnson’s Hawaii-based counsel for over $17.5 million in attorney’s fees and costs.

When Saipan Tribune left the courtroom late afternoon yesterday, attorney Margery Bronster of the Bronster Hoshibata law firm was still questioning her co-counsel, Robert Hatch, who was on the witness stand.

Bronster also grilled Johnson’s original counsel, Bruce Jorgensen, during which Tydingco-Gatewood would remind the two several times not to talk at the same time.

Bronster disclosed, among other things, that Jorgensen once asked her to deliver “gifts” to federal court personnel and security.

One of those “gifts,” Bronster said, was a calendar that contained photos of skimpily clad women. She said she told Jorgensen she could not do it as she believes it is not proper. She then presented the calendar in court.

Jorgensen smiled and explained that it was a calendar that can be purchased for 99 cents and that the other gifts were coffee.

“I used to bring coffee here,” Jorgensen said. “This is a different community than you’re used to.”

Jorgensen said that Saipan, where he stayed for several years, is a close-knit community. “We even used to barbecue on top of this building,” Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen admitted that he is afraid to come here because of his representation of Johnson and other previous cases as well as personal matters.

“I watch my back,” Jorgensen said, disclosing that he had prior information that then-governor Benigno R. Fitial was against him.

Jorgensen said that Bronster also told him that Gov. Eloy Inos dislikes him.

When asked by Bronster what percentage he did as his contribution in the filings of the case after the Bronster Hoshibata law firm joined him as co-counsel for Johnson, Jorgensen replied, “Five to 10 percent or beyond that.”

Jorgensen also claimed a 25-percent participation rate at the hearings.

He also accused Bronster of suddenly taking “a 180 degrees” and of treating him “like a demon.”

Bronster reiterated their previous position that, while Jorgensen initiated this case in June 2009 and defeated a motion to dismiss, the case was soon stayed in January 2010. She said no substantive progress was made until after their law form took the lead in 2011.

Bronster narrated to the court the many actions that their law firm initiated that led to the successful settlement of the class action.

She pointed out that given the enormous risk undertaken in this case and the excellent results for the class members, a multiplier of 15 for their lodestar is very reasonable.

Lodestar refers to the “reasonable number of hours multiplied by a reasonable rate.”

Assistant attorney general Teresita Sablan, on behalf of the CNMI government, argued, among other things, that the reasonable fee for Bronster Hoshibata is the lodestar amount without a multiplier. Sablan pointed out that the lodestar amount is already enough to compensate the class counsel.

Sablan said there is no complex issue in Johnson’s class action, but just the jurisdiction matter.

“What is reasonable is lodestar without a multiplier,” she added.

The CNMI government has agreed to pay Jorgensen $800,000 in attorney’s fees and costs, and Johnson’s local counsel, Stephen Woodruff, $185,000. The payment is subject to federal court’s approval.

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