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A federal Appeals Court has upheld a nearly $3.3 million verdict obtained by a Valley law firm against another firm from Texas for unpaid legal fees.

In their unanimous ruling, the judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by the attorney for John M. O'Quinn & Associates that the legal fees being charged by Brown & Bain were not reasonable. Neil McCabe said that put the Phoenix law firm in violation of ethical rules adopted by the Arizona Supreme Court.

But appellate Judge John Noonan, writing for the panel, said the O'Quinn firm had in fact agreed to pay Brown & Bain a certain amount once the case settled.

Potentially more significant for attorneys, the appellate judges said Ethical Rule 1.5, which bars fees that are "unreasonable," applies only to the dealings that lawyers have with their clients. It does not regulate what one law firm charges another.

The case involves a lawsuit filed by about 900 property owners in the Phoenix area who filed suit against Motorola contending that toxic chemicals from its plant caused environmental damage. The deal the property owners had was the O'Quinn law firm would get 40 percent of any recovery plus the cost of litigation.


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