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October 21, 2002

Mix v. Tumanjan Development Corporation (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 1318

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An attorney in propria persona may recover reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred for attorneys assisting him, even if they do not appear as counsel of record.

Landlord Tumanjan Development Corporation (TDC) and tenant/attorney Terrance Mix (Mix), filed cross-complaints against each other involving claims arising out of a commercial lease that included an attorneys’ fee provision.

Mix retained the law firm of Allen, Matkins, Leck, Gamble & Mallory (“Allen”) to analyze legal and factual issues, help with trial strategy, and assist in the litigation.  Allen did not formally associate in the litigation as counsel of record for Mix, except on one occasion.  The jury found in favor of Mix and awarded him damages. Mix filed a motion for costs and attorneys fees incurred for the services provided by Allen.  TDC argued that Mix was not entitled to recover contractual attorney fees for legal services performed by other attorneys, because Mix litigated the action in propria persona.

The Court of Appeal held that an attorney who chooses to represent himself may not recover reasonable attorney fees as compensation for his own services pursuant to Trope v. Katz (1995) 11 Cal.4th 274, 279.  However, if the pro se attorney retains counsel to assist in the lawsuit, he may be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred for retained counsel’s services. Retained counsel need not be counsel of record.

Although Allen was not counsel of record during most of the case, he actively participated in the proceedings.  Thus the attorneys’ fee award for Allen’s services was proper.

Comment: The rule permitting a litigant in propria persona to recover attorneys’ fees for the services of assisting counsel applies equally to both attorney and non-attorney pro se litigants.

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