ATLANTA (CN) — A Florida woman who scored a win in the 11th Circuit against a minority owner of the Miami Heat in a copyright dispute appeared again before the Atlanta-based appeals court Thursday, this time in a clash against her pro bono attorneys over their $115,000 award.
Irina Chevaldina may have gotten her way in a 2015 copyright infringement fight against her former landlord Raanan Katz, but she has returned to the 11th Circuit as part of a tug-of-war over legal fees her pro bono attorneys from the Center for Individual Rights say she owes them for defending her.
The center represented Chevaldina in Katz v. Google after Katz sued her for using an unflattering photo of him in a series of critical blog posts.
Michael Rosman, an attorney for the center, told a three-judge 11th Circuit panel Thursday that Chevaldina breached her retainer agreement by settling the case for just $10,000 in attorney’s fees, an “unreasonable” amount, and by persuading the center to drop its challenge of the award.
Florida-based attorney Christopher Haddad, arguing on behalf of Chevaldina, told the panel that Chevaldina did not breach the contract and asked the panel to overturn U.S. District Court Judge James King’s award of $114,865 in attorneys’ fees to the center in 2018.
Haddad argued Thursday that the entire retainer contract between Chevaldina and the center should be tossed out.
The agreement should be voided “on public policy grounds” because it was presented as a pro bono agreement but actually contemplated payment from Chevaldina upon settlement or resolution of the claims, Haddad said.
He also told the panel that King’s order, which granted summary judgment to the center, was too hasty. Haddad argued Chevaldina wasn’t afforded an opportunity to show that negotiations were ongoing between the center, Katz’s attorneys, and her settlement attorneys.
“There were material questions of fact regarding the reasonableness of the money, the settlement amount,” Haddad said.
The panel appeared to agree some loose ends remain in the case.
Senior U.S. Circuit Judge R. Lanier Anderson III, a Jimmy Carter appointee, acknowledged Thursday that there seem to be “considerable, genuine issues of material fact that could preclude summary judgment,” including the fact that the center has said it never advised Chevaldina not to enter into the settlement or told her the settlement was unreasonable.
Anderson also pointed out that exhibits of emails and phone calls in the record show that Rosman authorized the settlement negotiations on behalf of the center.
Rosman acknowledged the center knew Chevaldina was breaching her retainer agreement when she ordered them to withdraw their petition for attorneys’ fees and planned to sue her for that action afterward.
“You don’t have to tell the other party that they’re breaching the contract. A breach is a breach,” Rosman told the panel. “Ms. Chevaldina was being represented by lawyers in state court. The whole negotiation was a negotiation of a settlement in another lawsuit. We had no obligation to advise her about whether to enter into that agreement or not.”
It is not clear when the panel will issue a decision in the case.