A proposed class action lawsuit has been filed against Countrywide Home Loans Inc. for charging excessive fees against its customers.


The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that the mortgage company charges its customers for prepaying their property taxes. The suit also claims the company wrongfully charges late fees in cases where its customers pay within the 16-day grace period.


The lead plaintiff, a lawyer in Tampa, Fla. named Jeffrey Willis, claims that Countrywide paid $9,785 in annual property taxes for his home in November 2004, almost two months before they were due. Since January 2005, Countrywide has charged Willis $247 in fees for the early payment.


Willis also claims he has been wrongfully charged for late payments on his $2,540 monthly mortgage costs.


"Mr. Willis maintains that he sent timely payments, which were received by Countrywide, and yet late charges were assessed," said Rob Biederman, a partner at Hubbard & Biederman LLP who represents the lawyer. "He made attempts to have Countrywide explain the charges, which appear to be assessed with the property tax matter and was unable to resolve that."


In March 2002, Countrywide settled a class action filed by borrowers claiming it charged them excessive fees for credit reports. Under the settlement, Countrywide agreed to mail a $35 certificate to each of the more than 200,000 class members.


A spokeswoman for Countrywide, a division of Calabasas-based Countrywide Financial Corp., did not return a call seeking comment.


Buchalter's Bigger
Buchalter Nemer PC, which recently shortened its name from Buchalter Nemer Fields & Younger, has moved into larger office space at the 1000 Wilshire building in downtown Los Angeles.


Rick Cohen, managing partner at Buchalter Nemer, said the business litigation firm has increased its headcount from 93 to 160 since shedding its insurance practice group a decade ago.


"We've been growing for the last five to seven years at the rate of about 5 to 7 percent per year in headcount and expect that rate of growth will continue," he said. "That's why we were so interested in getting new space."


About 100 lawyers moved into the 85,000-square-foot space, which is about 10,000 square feet larger than Buchalter's former office at Figueroa Street at Wilshire Blvd. The firm has smaller offices in San Francisco, Irvine and Phoenix.


Airport Change
Claudia Culling, the city attorney in charge of helping craft an $11 billion plan to modernize Los Angeles International Airport, has been reassigned to new duties and is reporting directly to new Chief Deputy Richard Llewellyn.


The airport plan has faced legal challenges by environmental and neighborhood groups, particularly the city of El Segundo, which are opposed to the off-site parking facility and the relocation of the southern runways. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also has expressed concern about elements of the plan.


The City Attorney's Office downplayed the internal reshuffling. "We've got a new chief deputy now," said City Attorney spokesman Jonathan Diamond, noting Llewellyn was hired last month. "He's looking at all the divisions."


Culling had been working under Eduardo Angeles, managing assistant of the City Attorney's airport division. She has been replaced by Assistant City Attorney Raymond Ilgunas, who was already handling legal issues at the airport.


Comings & Goings
The associate general counsel of the Los Angeles Unified School District has joined Brown Winfield & Canzoneri Inc. of counsel. Penny Pittman Cobey, who oversaw the renovation of the Getty Villa before joining the School District in 2002, worked with outside developers on the school projects A team of seven Los Angeles lawyers led by David Sands, a partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, is representing Countrywide Home Loans, a division of Calabasas-based Countrywide Financial Corp., in its pending acquisition of KB Home Mortgage Corp A 33-lawyer team from Latham & Watkins LLP, including three in Los Angeles, represented Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Silver Lake Partners in their recent $2.66 billion purchase of Agilent Technologies Inc.'s semiconductor products group.


*Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225, or at abronstad@labusinessjournal.com .

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