The trial court properly denied a landlord the right to offset damage awards it had obtained against the tenant in later suits against an attorney fee award the tenant recovered in the landlord’s first, abortive suit. Lawyer for tenant’s fee agreement provided lawyer would charge tenant no fees but would receive any fees the court awarded tenant against landlord. Tenant recovered fees in landlord’s first unlawful detainer action. Tenant then lost two unlawful detainer judgments which awarded damages to landlord. Landlord moved to offset the damage awards against the fee award. This decision affirms the denial of an offset. The lawyer’s lien in the fee award became enforceable only when the fee award was entered but for priority purposes relates back to the date of the fee agreement. The trial court correctly exercised equitable discretion in determining priority as between the attorney lien and the offset of judgments landlord obtained in other actions. Partly for failure to provide an appropriate record and partly to avoid discouraging legal representation, landlord failed to show any abuse of the trial court’s discretion in denying an offset that would have wiped out the fee award altogether.
Los Angeles Superior Court, Appellate Division (Ricciardulli, J.); May 24, 2016 (published June 21, 2016); 2016 WL 3402451