BUSD sexual harassment case nets $3.2 million in attorney fees

Attorneys representing a woman who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Burbank Unified School District were recently awarded more than $3.2 million, according to recently released court records.

Danielle Baez filed a lawsuit against Burbank Unified in 2007, claiming the district’s senior facilities director, Craig Jellison, made unwanted sexual advances and sent her sexually explicit emails beginning in late 2005.

Baez went on medical leave from the school district in March of 2007, citing emotional distress, and filed the lawsuit in June 2007.

In October of 2007, the school district’s attorney — Nancy Doumanian — filed a motion asking the court to strike the complaint, claiming the lawsuit amounted to “frivolous pleading” and communications between the two “were the product of voluntary personal discussions between consenting adults.”

On July 11, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy awarded more than $2.9 million to attorneys Victor George, Wayne Smith and Elvis Tran, and another $267,600 to attorneys Norman Pine and Beverly Pine of a separate law office.

In explaining why she granted the attorneys those dollar amounts, Murphy cited the time and effort the attorneys representing Baez put in, saying the hours added up to more than 2,500.

“The case has involved some of the most brutal, hard-fought litigation I have ever seen in any case,” according to court transcripts filed in July.

Murphy said she gave up her own nights and weekends to the case, and stated the school district’s law firm consistently made rule violations. They often filed documents late, or without proper citations, “substantially” increasing the cost of litigation, court records show.

“For whatever reason, the Burbank Unified School District has decided…to retain Ms. Doumanian’s law firm, and the litigation has been replete with rule violations necessitating extra time and work on the plaintiff’s side, and certainly on the court’s,” she said.

The plaintiff’s attorneys, however, submitted “laser-like,” well-written briefs, thoroughly researched and cited.

In response to the dollars awarded last month, attorney Wayne Smith said Baez is “certainly very happy and felt she got a certain amount of justice out of this whole thing.”

Over the past seven years, the case went to trial three times. The first trial, after lasting 16 days, was reversed on appeal. The second one ended in a mistrial after five days.

The third trial, held in late 2013, lasted 17 days, and the jury determined Baez should receive $199,398 for undergoing physical pain, mental suffering and economic loss.

In February, the school district’s attorneys appealed the nearly $200,000 judgment.

“At this point, we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Burbank Unified Supt. Jan Britz said the school district will attempt to appeal the $3.2 million in attorneys fees, saying the amount awarded, at 16 times what Baez got is “very unusual.”

According to court records, however, Murphy cited other cases in whichattorneys fees added up to more than the damages awarded.

[Updated 4:35 p.m. with additional information]

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