Jury sides with LA attorney in spat over fees

2012-07-31T12:00:00Z 2014-06-10T14:49:26Z Jury sides with LA attorney in spat over feesBy LORI PILGER / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A Lancaster County jury has sided with a California lawyer and against a Lincoln law firm in a dispute over attorney fees that led to a trial.

After more than a day of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict at 4:55 p.m. Monday in favor of Los Angeles attorney Michael J. Piuze.

McCord & Burns Law Firm had sued him and the Law Offices of Michael Piuze, alleging Piuze owed $562,500 related to a multi-million dollar jury award against General Motors.

Piuze and former Lincoln attorney Dan McCord represented Penny Shipler, a 30-year-old mother paralyzed from the mid-chest down after the roof of the Chevrolet Blazer she was riding in crushed her when it rolled near U.S. 34 and Northwest 27th Street on Sept. 11, 1997.

Shipler retained McCord, a friend, who sought out Piuze because he had a similar case against GM.

In 2000, Shipler sued the driver, Kenneth Long of Lincoln, and GM's Chevrolet division, alleging safety issues with the vehicle's roof design.

At trial in 2003, a jury found both liable and awarded Shipler $19.56 million -- later reduced by the trial judge to $18.6 million.

It was said to be the largest monetary judgment given by a Lancaster County District Court jury.

The car maker appealed, and in 2006 the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the award. A month later, at McCord's urging, Shipler settled with the company for $22.5 million, and she and her son left Nebraska.

That same year, McCord sued Piuze over how he split the attorneys' fees.

In court two weeks ago, McCord, who now divides his time between Yankton, S.D., and Ashland, testified that Piuze's firm gave his firm $2.25 million for work on the case. He said he should have gotten some $562,500 more, for a total of 25 percent of Piuze's $11.25 million share of the settlement.

Piuze's attorney, Peter Ezzell of Los Angeles, said in the contract McCord signed, Shipler agreed to give 40 percent of the judgment to her attorneys, and McCord's share was to be 25 percent of that amount for his work on the trial and leading up to it.

Ezzell said the contract specifically excluded appeal work, during which Shipler agreed to increase the attorneys' fees to 50 percent.

McCord said he went into the case intending to follow it however far it went and Shipler wanted that, too.

This was the first time the case reached a jury.

In 2007, District Judge John Colborn sided with McCord and awarded him the greater percent. A year later, on appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the decision and sent the case back to district court.

Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger.

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