On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Docket No. L-886-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher and Gilroy.
In this appeal, we consider whether the judge erred when, after a hearing, he fixed the lien of plaintiff's prior counsel, following plaintiff's settlement of her complaint against defendant. We find no merit in plaintiff's arguments and affirm.
The record reveals that Spector, Gadon & Rosen (the law firm) commenced this action by filing a complaint on plaintiff's behalf against defendant. The record further indicates that the case was once dismissed on the misunderstanding that the matter had settled; it was later reinstated to the active trial calendar. Thereafter, plaintiff represented herself and eventually negotiated a settlement with defendant for $15,000, subject to the law firm's lien for services rendered.
When the amount of the lien could not be resolved amicably, the parties appeared for a hearing. At that time, the law firm acknowledged that although it believed plaintiff had signed a retainer agreement, the agreement could not be located. Accordingly, the law firm sought an award based upon quantum meruit principles, as described in Starkey, Kelly, Blaney & White v. Estate of Nicolaysen, 172 N.J. 60 (2002). The law firm acknowledged that it did not keep time records in this matter but nevertheless provided the judge with a certification that estimated the services rendered. By way of that certification, the law firm sought $5,752.50 in fees (based upon an estimated 19.5 hours at the rate of $295 per hour) and $146.45 in expenses and costs.
In light of the fact that plaintiff was representing herself, the judge thoroughly questioned counsel and examined the content of the certification. Considering among other things that the attorney involved for the law firm was a member of the bar for over thirty years, the judge found the hourly rate to be fair and reasonable. However, the judge found the amount sought to be excessive in one general sense, i.e., it sought more than one-third of the recovery, which would have exceeded a fee due had there been a contingency agreement. The judge also eliminated the law firm's request for services in connection with difficulties in effecting service of process and the time incurred in imposing the firm's lien; other services were also either found to be non-compensable or were reduced in size. The judge, ultimately, fixed the amount of the lien at $3,629.66.
Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the hourly rate employed and the time incurred by the law firm in fixing the lien was excessive for various reasons. We find insufficient merit in any of plaintiff's arguments to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
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