Gordon & Rees partner John Condrey and senior counsel Jamie Mayrose recently obtained a unanimous defense verdict on behalf of their client, attorney Amy Wallace, on claims by her former firm, Gillespie Shields & Durrant for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The jury trial in Maricopa County Superior Court took place over four days, with the last day concluding late into the evening.
Ms. Wallace had practiced law in California since 1983, but in 2010 she decided to move home to Phoenix for personal reasons. While in Arizona, she worked remotely for her California partnership. She eventually decided to apply to an Arizona firm for an associate position. She interviewed with the Gillespie firm, and disclosed that she had some California cases that she planned to continue to work on in her own time and for her own benefit. Ms. Wallace was asked no questions about the California cases, and she was hired in April 2011 to do plaintiffs’ employment work.
In late 2012, Ms. Wallace received her share of a contingency fee from a wrongful death matter she worked on with her California partner. The check in the amount of $375,000 was delivered to Ms. Wallace at the Gillespie firm and was turned over to her. As Gillespie’s CFO said at trial, the check appeared to be from Ms. Wallace’s California work. The Gillespie firm later changed its position, arguing that that Ms. Wallace should have brought the opportunity to it or at least turned over her portion of the fee. The firm also argued that Ms. Wallace secretly worked on many California cases on the Gillespie firm’s time and used its equipment.
At trial, plaintiff showed the jury mountains of documents related to California cases that were stored on Ms. Wallace’s work computer. Gillespie partners and the non-attorney CFO testified that in her pre-hire interviews Ms. Wallace said she was “winding down” cases in California that required little work, and they showed that the initial letter to the carrier in the California wrongful death case was dated many months after Ms. Wallace started working at the Gillespie firm. These witnesses concluded that the case was not “winding down” at all, and that Ms. Wallace made material misrepresentations to them. The head of the firm, Ms. Gillespie, said that she did not grill Ms. Wallace about the California cases because she trusted Ms. Wallace, and took great stock in her “A.V.” rating by Martindale-Hubbell. Ms. Wallace was excoriated on cross examination concerning the California case documents found by Gillespie and on a number of other issues.
In defending Ms. Wallace, John and Jamie disregarded most of the evidence offered by plaintiff. Instead, they established, through Ms. Wallace, her understanding of the terms of the agreement reached with the Gillespie firm. Then, using only a few exhibits, John questioned the firm's CFO, who admitted that Ms. Wallace’s performance of work on the California matters, and checks received during the time she worked on those matters was consistent with his expectations. During his closing argument, John highlighted that plaintiff’s counsel wasted the jury’s time by presenting mountains of evidence that had nothing to do with the only California case that was relevant—the wrongful death case. John also pointed out that Ms. Wallace’s computer was completely accessible by the Gillespie firm, and that she was transparent about her work on California matters. John concluded by saying that Ms. Gillespie did not rely on Ms. Wallace’s A.V. rating in failing to ask questions about the California work. Ms. Gillespie did not care about the California cases because they would not inure to her benefit.
The case went to the jury at 8:00 p.m. They ate a pizza, picked a foreman and returned at 8:50 with their unanimous verdict. The client was delighted, as are John and Jamie.