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Judge Calls Seward Park Co-op’s Legal Fees “Highway Robbery”

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Legal Fees

Entry to Seward Park Co-op's valet parking garage, source of a costly legal battle (image via Google Maps).

July 25, 2018

A Manhattan judge has slashed law firm Greenberg Traurig’s fee request by 62 percent – from $464,164 to $175,000 – in a lawsuit brought by Seward Park Cooperative shareholders against the co-op board in a dispute over the co-op’s parking operation. 

Calling the fee request “highway robbery without the six-gun,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron called on the legal profession and fellow judges to cut down on astronomical fee awards, the New York Law Journal reports. “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and lawyers gotta litigate,” the judge added. “In short, [Greenberg Traurig] did what lawyers do, submitted excellent papers, and prevailed. To focus solely on [Greenberg Traurig’s] rates and hours would be to miss the forest for the trees.” 

The lawsuit was brought by five shareholders who objected to the Seward Park board’s decision to switch from self-parking to a valet service in the co-op’s garage and parking deck. Judge Engoron dismissed the suit in July 2017, which he described as a “relatively straightforward” proceeding. Hence his outrage over the bill presented by Greenberg Traurig, which represented the co-op board. 

“By requesting astronomical fees, attorneys are in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” the judge said. “Cultural change may be in the offing.”

“Judge Engoron is correct that lawyers’ fees have gotten completely out of control,” Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance tells the New York Post. “We continually hear stories of law firms over-billing by hundreds of thousands of dollars and class-action lawyers that pocket the majority of large settlements, leaving little or nothing for the plaintiffs.” 

A spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig said, “We respectfully disagree with the characterization of our firm’s fees in this matter on which our client prevailed.” 

The lawsuit over the parking garage is not related to Seward Park shareholders’ recent rejection of a $54 million air-rights offer from a developer who is getting ready to build two luxury condo towers adjacent to the Lower East Side property.

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