Buni v. Kleinerman, 000160-2012
Cite as: Buni v. Kleinerman, 000160-2012, NYLJ 1202610059888, at *1 (Civ., NY, Decided July 1, 2013)
Judge Frank P. Nervo
Decided: July 1, 2013
Pro Se: Ronny Buni Esq.
Pro se: Defendants Kleinerman
Decision and order after trial
This is a trial de novo instituted by plaintiff-attorney after an attorney fee dispute arbitration held pursuant Part 137 of the Rules of the Chief Adminstrator.
Plaintiff was retained by defendants in March 2011 to represent them in litigation, already in progress, involving a dispute with their co-op board. On June 29, 2011 plaintiff advised defendants he was ceasing work on the matter citing an unpaid invoice in the amount of $6239.00 for his professional services. By a unique distortion of the arbitration award, plaintiff seeks recovery of that unpaid invoice reduced by the $5,000 the arbitration award directed be returned by plaintiff of previously received fees of $22,371.00. Defendant-clients seek return of all amounts remitted, to wit, $22,371.00.
During this representation, plaintiff reviewed the litigation file and the depositions which had been conducted before his retention, followed on some outstanding discovery requests previously made by his clients and previously demanded of his clients; sent innumerable emails to his clients, some of which included berating them for their reasonable input into the matter, and attended one status conference in court on May 23, 2011. Plaintiff also made a point of an LLM degree in taxation and business, experience in unparticularized 'variety of litigation' and as a law clerk in Civil Court.
A review of the invoices submitted to defendant include such billed activities as, at up to $450 per hour: over five initial hours engaged in essentially ministerial matters (3/24-31/11) including "discussed filing of notice of appearance and contact with adversary counsel requesting enlargement of discovery"; "conducted attorney search for…Law Clerk at Unified Court System for purpose of determining his tenure and background before calling…chambers…"; "discussed with client emerging theories of case";
"reviewed CPLR re experts and commentary…to determine…failure to demand expert info prior to close of discovery…" and "reviewed and analyzed case law…to survive S/J and prevail at trial" albiet no such motion or trial had ever been addressed by plaintiff.
Another example of plaintiff's remarkable billing practices is a series of telephone conferences on March 31, 2011 wherein he seeks an opportunity to enlarge the time to complete discovery from the Supreme Court (Tingling, J.), and purportedly over a period exceeding an hour and a half discusses this request with the Court's chamber's personnel, Part Clerk, adversary counsel and the Court. While the request was summarily denied by the Court concluding the telephone conference, the following day, April 1, 2011, for an additional one-and-a-half hours at $450.00, plaintiff repeated the same request by a short letter to Justice Tingling propounding the same basis for the request which had been denied the day before and, as well, rebuking Justice Tingling taking him to task for his calendar control practices. Indeed, he advises the judge in no uncertain terms that "30 days will not break the Court's calendar…" (Defendants' Exhibit F.)
Further representative of plaintiff's inappropriate, if not bizarre, billing practices is a charge on April 11, 2011 where he notes having consulted with a "Jd Ryan (sic), retired" apparently retired attorney and acquaintance of plaintiff's whom he consulted for guidance in how best to proceed on defendants' behalf. A client should not be charged for an attorney's need to consult others because of that attorney's inability to determine how best to represent that client. The client is not responsible for an attorney's need to obtain his or her own legal advice. Once plaintiff determined that he was incapable of representing defendants, rather than bill these clients for his own lack of legal knowledge he should have moved to withdraw at that time and not continued to build up legal fees.
The court notes that the legal research plaintiff billed for was not, in fact, research but simply an attempt to familiarize himself with principles of law and legal discovery, including expert witness exchange, that he should have known. Plaintiff may not bill his clients for his lack of legal knowledge and need to familiarize himself with principles of law and legal procedure that one holding themselves out as an experienced attorney presumtively knows.
The court finds the value of plaintiff's professional efforts on behalf of these clients, in quantum meruit, at $750 for the compliance conference court appearance and his nominally addressing discovery issues. Consequently, the court dismisses the complaint and finds in favor of the defendants on their counterclaim in the amount of $21,621.00 (the principal sum of $22,371.00 reduced by $750 representing the fair value
of plaintiff's services) with interest at the statutory rate from May 10, 2011 (the date of defendants' last payment to plaintiff), plus costs as taxed by the Clerk.
The clerk is directed to enter judgment consistent with this order, to wit, in favor of the defendants in the amount of $21,621.00 with interest at the statutory rate from May 10, 2011, plus costs, and against the plaintiffs Ronny Buni, Esq., and The Law Offices of Ronny Buni, A Professional Corporation, upon proof of service of a copy of this order with notice of entry.
This constitutes the decision and order of the court.
New York, New York
July 1, 2013
Law Office of Ronny Buni
New York, N.Y. 10016
Vivian & Gerald Kleinerman
New York, N.Y. 10021
Re: Buni v. Kleinerman #000160-2012
Enclosed find a courtesy copy of the court's decision in this matter as well as the parties' respective exhibits which had been retained by the court pending decision.
Frank P. Nervo, JCC