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July 21, 2015

Law Offices of Marc Grossman v. Victor Elementary School District (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 1010

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The Fourth District holds attorney’s fees for self-representation are recoverable under the Public Records Act.

The Law Offices of Marc Grossman sought, as a member of the public, the amount the school district spent to defend a claim. The Court of Appeal granted Grossman’s writ of mandate, reversing the trial court, and ordered the trial court award fees and costs under Government Code § 6259.  The trial court denied fees on the basis that a self-represented attorney cannot recover fees.

The California Public Records Act (CPRA), provides for reasonable fees to a prevailing party, as part of its legislative purpose of providing public access to to information in the possession of public agencies.  Given the purpose of the legislation, precedent applicable to contract disputes between attorneys and clients, which held a self-represented attorney does not “incur” fees, did not apply. 

Although the writ was filed in its own name, the law firm sought information pertinent to civil actions filed on behalf its clients. It puts form over substance to deny fees because the petition was filed in the name of the law firm.

Further, the Court of Appeal had directed the trial court to award reasonable attorneys’ fees, and the school district never asserted that the law firm was not entitled to fees; it contested the amount.

Comment: Law firms that self-represent are at a disadvantage when trying to recover fees. In most situations, the context is a fee dispute with a client, and a prevailing party fee provision must be carefully drafted to recognize the value of an attorney’s time as recoverable.

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