E. Blake Paul appeared before the Florida Supreme Court for oral argument on May 4, 2011. This is Mr. Paul’s second case before the Florida Supreme Court. In his first trip, the Court declined jurisdiction, upholding Mr. Paul’s successful effort to reverse a trial court’s award of attorney’s fees against his client after settlement. Pines v. Growers Service Co., 787 So. 2d 85 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001), rev. denied, 797 So. 2d 585 (Fla. 2001). The most recent case also dealt with attorney’s fees. In Roshkind v. Machiela, SC10-1754, the Court will address the long-standing rule requiring expert testimony to support a claim for attorney’s fees. Ms. Machiela retained Robin Roshkind to represent her in her divorce. The Roshkind law firm later withdrew, and filed a motion seeking a “charging lien” against Ms. Machiela for unpaid attorney’s fees. Ms. Machiela’s former attorneys, however, did not present expert testimony regarding the amount of their fees; relying instead on the attorney/client contract, which provided that Ms. Machiela waived any objections to the amount of fees owed to her attorneys if she failed to complain about the fees within thirty days of receipt of the invoice. The trial court disagreed, and refused to grant the Roshkind firm attorney’s fees without expert testimony. The Roshkind firm appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. The Fourth District upheld the trial court, but disagreed with the basis for the rule, and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court as one of “Great Public Importance.” The Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction to determine whether to keep or abandon this 40 year old rule.
Ms. Machiela was without the financial ability to hire her own attorney for the appeal, and, after application, Mr. Paul was appointed by the Florida Supreme Court as Ms. Roskind’s attorney pro bono. Mr. Paul argued that attorneys, unlike other professions, are fiduciaries of their clients, and should therefore be subject to stricter scrutiny by the courts and the public. Although the long-standing rule requiring expert testimony is singular to the legal profession, this additional safeguard is appropriate in these circumstances to guard against both actual or perceived attorney overreaching.
You can see a copy of Mr. Paul’s brief: