The Fourth District would not disqualify a law firm representing a public entity under a contingency fee agreement because the action was not brought on the public’s behalf, but in the entity’s own name to recover compensatory damages.
The Orange County Water District incurred costs to investigate contamination in groundwater aquifers. It retained Miller, Axline & Sawyer on a contingency fee basis to recover the investigation and remediation costs. Defendants moved to disqualify the Miller Firm based on the contingency fee arguing that precedent prohibited a public entity from paying a private attorney to prosecute an action on behalf of the public. The trial court denied the motion, finding there was no prohibition because the Water district did not pursue the action on behalf of the public, but on its own behalf for its own damages.