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L.A. Attorneys May Face Punishment in Dole Case

High-profile Los Angeles plaintiff’s lawyers Thomas Girardi and Walter Lack may face disciplinary action over a clerical error that stems from a toxic tort case between Nicaraguan banana workers and Dole Food Co.

Girardi and Lack are being investigated by an independent prosecutor for allegedly submitting false documents to U.S. courts.

The documents stem from a 2003 suit, when Girardi and Lack tried to have a $489 million Nicaraguan judgment enforced by a Los Angeles Superior Court. The documents submitted by Lack and Girardi listed Dole Food Co. and Shell Chemical Co. as defendants, and allegedly came from the lawsuit that was brought by the Nicaraguan banana workers.

But, the original documents used in the Nicaraguan litigation listed Dole Food Corp. and Shell Oil Co., instead of their correct names, Dole Food Co. and Shell Chemical Co. The Nicaraguan courts did not allow Dole to defend itself against the suit because the name did not match. Dole did not accept the validity of the ruling and it was voided by a U.S. judge.

In March, 9th Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima issued a report that recommended the two attorneys be sanctioned because they knew, or should have known, that the translations of Nicaraguan documents they tried to use to win a U.S. judgment against the companies were incorrect.

Last week, a panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appointed UC Hastings College of Law professor Rory Little as the independent prosecutor.

“If the court was going to look at our conduct, we wanted a neutral and objective prosecutor,” said Diane Karpman, one of Girardi’s attorneys and a Los Angeles legal ethics expert.

Girardi denies any wrongdoing.

Little will recommend whether Girardi and Lack should be disciplined.

After Little makes his recommendations, Tashima is expected to draft his own report and make recommendations to a three-judge panel. Those judges will determine whether the two attorneys should be fined, and if so, how much.

Girardi, name partner of Girardi & Keese LLP, and Lack, name partner of Engstrom Lipscomb & Lack LLP, are best known for recovering more than $500 million from Pacific Gas & Electric in cases made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.”


Organic Growth

Environmental lawyers are taking over the Los Angeles office of Hunton & Williams LLP.

P. Scott Burton joined the firm in May, following Malcolm Weiss and Chris Amantea, who joined the Virginia-based firm in April.

The addition of Burton, Weiss and Amantea adds to the firm’s growing environmental practice group, which is home to 80 attorneys nationwide.

Burton, who practiced at Bingham McCutchen LLP for 11 years, said the decision to change firms wasn’t difficult.

“I was approached by multiple firms, but went with Hunton because of their strong energy and environmental practice,” Burton said.

The firm’s clients include companies regulated by federal and state agencies. Burton’s clients include national and international energy, mining and chemical companies.

He said Hunton & Williams’ presence in Europe provides him with a broader platform to service his clients.

The company has offices in London and Brussels and in various locations on the East Coast. With this expansion, the firm is boosting its West Coast presence.

Ann Marie Mortimer, managing partner of the L.A. office, said the firm decided to focus on building an environmental department because California has historically been on the forefront in addressing climate change and water quality regulation issues.

“California is on the leading edge in environmental law, so we started building the L.A. office with the environmental team as an anchor,” Mortimer said.

The 1,000-attorney firm also plans to build its Los Angeles litigation practice. The firm established its Los Angeles outpost in 2006.


Fatty Foods

Calorie counters beware: The Weight Watchers menu offered by Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill may not help shed those extra pounds. Or at least that is what a federal lawsuit contends.

Lawyers for a Washington woman filed suit against Glendale-based DineEquity Inc., which owns and operates Applebee’s.

The suit, which was filed as a proposed class action, alleges the restaurant’s Weight Watchers menu inaccurately listed the calorie, fat and Weight Watchers point content of items. An independent laboratory testing showed, for example, that the tortilla chicken appetizer contained 21.4 grams of fat, not the 13 grams advertised on the menu.

The suit also claims that by listing inaccurate nutritional information, Applebee’s is engaging in deceptive business practices and false advertising.

The Washington woman, Anne Paskett, claims she ate at Applebee’s because the Weight Watchers menu offered her low-fat alternatives to standard restaurant food.

“She dined at Applebee’s because of the healthier choices on the Weight Watchers menu, and she didn’t get what she paid for,” said Jason Epstein, a Seattle-based lawyer who is representing Paskett in the suit.

It is unclear how many individuals are potential members of the class action, but Epstein said it could include anyone who ordered the Weight Watchers options because of the calorie and fat information listed on the menu.

Epstein, and other plaintiff’s lawyers involved in the lawsuit, filed a similar complaint in Texas against Brinker International over the nutritional content on the company’s Chili’s Grill & Bar, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill menus.


Staff reporter Alexa Hyland can be reached at

ahyland@labusinessjournal.com

or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235.

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