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Patterson v. Burge

August 4, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan B. Gottschall United States District Judge

Judge Joan B. Gottschall

Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown


The People's Law Office and Standish Willis (collectively, the "PLO"), prior counsel for plaintiff Aaron Patterson ("Patterson"), have moved for adjudication of their attorneys' lien against a portion of the settlement funds derived from Patterson's suit against former Chicago Police Lieutenant Jon Burge ("Burge") and the other City of Chicago defendants*fn1 (collectively the "City defendants"). Avila & Tomic LLP and Barry & Loewy LLP (collectively "Avila"), also former counsel for Patterson, and who succeeded the PLO, have also moved for attorneys' fees under their contingency agreement with Patterson in the amount of $1,666,500, which corresponds to one-third of the settlement. For the reasons set forth below the PLO is granted $980,986 in attorneys' fees in quantum meruit. Avila is granted $685,514, which is the remainder of the $1,666,500 portion of the settlement allocated to attorneys' fees. The remainder of the settlement award currently held by the court is to be paid to Patterson. Avila's motion to strike portions of the PLO's motion to adjudicate attorneys' fees is denied as moot. Avila's motion to conduct limited discovery of the PLO attorneys is also denied.


Patterson was found guilty in the Circuit Court of Cook County of the 1986 murders of Vincent and Rafaela Sanchez and sentenced to death. In 1992, Patterson's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court. People v. Patterson, 610 N.E.2d 16, 50 (Ill. 1992). However, in 2000, the Illinois Supreme Court held, inter alia, that Patterson was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to present evidence that his confession was involuntary. Furthermore, the court held that new evidence concerning a systemic pattern of torturing suspects at Chicago Police Department Area 2 Headquarters (where Patterson gave his confession) also entitled Patterson to an evidentiary hearing on his claim that his confession was coerced via torture. People v. Patterson, 735 N.E.2d 616 (Ill. 2000). On January 2003, George Ryan, the then-Governor of Illinois, relying on evidence that Patterson's confession was coerced by torture and that Patterson was actually innocent, granted Patterson a pardon, and he was released that very day.

On June 26, 2003, Patterson filed the instant case against numerous defendants, including Burge and other Chicago Police officers and officials, the City of Chicago, the Cook County State's Attorneys Office, and assorted individual state's attorneys, alleging, inter alia, violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and malicious prosecution. On March 10, 2008, Patterson and the City defendants entered into a settlement agreement and filed a stipulation of dismissal. As part of the settlement agreement, the City defendants agreed to pay Patterson the sum of $5 million. The issue presently before the court centers upon a dispute between two sets of Patterson's attorneys: the PLO, which represented Patterson during the latter phases of his criminal case and from the initiation of this case until its withdrawal as Patterson's counsel on February 9, 2006; and Avila, which represented Patterson from August 25, 2006 until March 20, 2008, when they, too, withdrew as his counsel.

At the initiation of the instant case, Patterson and the PLO entered into a retainer agreement (the "PLO retainer") that stated that stated in relevant part:

3. If there is a recovery, either through settlement or trial, the client agrees to pay his lawyers a contingency fee of 33 1/3% (one-third) of the total amount recovered, including attorneys' fees if awarded. .

5. In the event that the client obtains other lawyers to represent him in this matter prior to its final resolution, the replaced attorney or attorneys shall be entitled to a fee of the reasonable value of services provided based upon the number of hours spent by such attorney or attorneys multiplied by the hourly rate of such attorney or attorneys.

The PLO represented Patterson until it withdrew from the case on February 9, 2006. According to the PLO, a tentative settlement agreement had been reached with the City defendants in late 2005, in which the PLO offered Patterson a guaranteed net minimum award of $2.4 million after fees, costs, and the repayment of a loan that Patterson had earlier taken out. The PLO claims that it bought this offer to Patterson four times in January of 2006, and that each time Patterson refused the offer, stating further that he would not settle for any amount. The PLO claims that Patterson's constantly shifting position on settlement, his conduct during depositions, his failure to heed counsel's advice, his uncooperative attitude (Patterson is reported to be an emotionally volatile individual), and his final, repeated assertion that he would not settle for any amount, resulted in the PLO concluding that the attorney-client relation had irretrievably broken down, and it consequently filed a motion to withdraw, which was granted by the court.

Patterson was present in court during the hearing at which the PLO moved to withdraw. Transcript of Record at 3, Patterson v. Burge, No. 03 C 4433 (Feb. 9, 2006). Patterson did not explicitly object to the withdrawal of the PLO as his counsel, stating that he "would like to hear them say in open court individually that each one of them wants to withdraw so it can be on the record." Id. at 4. Patterson made it clear that he wanted his attorneys' withdrawal on the record, and suggested that the court should revisit the contingency fee arrangements he had made with the PLO, a suggestion which the court declined at that time.*fn2 Id. at 5-6. Patterson then expressed the desire to proceed pro se while seeking new counsel, rather than have the court appoint an attorney for him, and he asked the court to direct the PLO to hand over to him all of the evidence as soon as possible. Id. at 7-9. The hearing transcript confirms that Patterson was not reluctant to let his attorneys withdraw, but rather that he personally wished to ensure that their withdrawal was on the record, and that he was concerned that the PLO might still attempt to collect its contingency fee after the case was resolved.

On August 25, 2006, Patterson engaged Avila to represent him in the ongoing case.*fn3 Patterson and Avila signed a contract, which stated in relevant part:

The Client agrees that Avila and Tomic LLC shall be entitled to 33.33% of any Recovery ultimately received. The 33.33% recovery that Avila and Tomic LLC shall be entitled to receive shall be free of any and all other attorney's liens or fees associated with this case. .

[I]f Client decides to terminate representation with Avila & Tomic LLC and subsequently receives a settlement in this case after said termination than (sic) Avila & Tomic LLC will have a right to a portion of the settlement recovery not only for the Quantum Meruit amount of time in this case but also for a percentage of the settlement amount due to the value of Avila & Tomic in this case.

Avila continued to represent Patterson through the time at which the settlement agreement with the City defendants was reached and the stipulation to dismiss the case against the City defendants was filed. Avila subsequently withdrew as Patterson's counsel on March 20, 2008.*fn4

Presently before the court are the PLO's motion for adjudication of its attorney's lien against Patterson, Avila's cross-motion for attorney's fees in the form of its 33 1/3% contingency fee, Avila's motion to strike several portions of the PLO's motion as containing hearsay, and Avila's motion for ...

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