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Proskauer Achieves Victory in Complex Pro Bono Trust Litigation

February 6, 2015 (Los Angeles) – Proskauer achieved a victory on behalf of a pro bono client after 19 months of intense litigation.

Proskauer represented the client, a 60-year-old man who is HIV+. Since 1988, he has lived in a condominium in California that his parents purchased for him for $115,000 and placed in trust. He has been paying $1,500 a month to cover the mortgage, Homeowner’s Association dues, insurance and tax to his brother who has been the trustee since their father died in 2009. The brother brought an unlawful detainer following a six-month period during which the client was unable to work for health reasons and could not make the full payments.

When the Los Angeles County Bar Association AIDS Legal Services Project referred the client to Proskauer, the unlawful detainer action had already passed through two prior law firms. The Proskauer team prevailed on grounds that the matter involved a life estate in real property, not a landlord-tenant or leasehold relationship. The team then filed a petition to remove the trustee for breach of his fiduciary duties and for an accounting to determine what amount, after more than 23 years of payments, was still owed on the mortgage, as the client believed it may have been paid off. 

After conducting extensive discovery, the client prevailed against the unlawful detainer action, in defeating an objection to personal jurisdiction, in surviving a demurrer, and in having the court compel discovery productions that yielded information exposing the brother’s breaches of fiduciary duty. Proskauer settled the matter, and the client will be paid a substantial sum – more than 150% of his original target number. In addition to living “rent-free” for the entire litigation period, as well as the previous six months when he was unable to work, he received 90 additional rent-free days to wrap up his life and business in California, before moving to Seattle.

The Proskauer team was led by Securities Litigation partner Ronald Wood, and included associates Robert Escalante, Amy Dunphy, Joshua Kopple, Rochelle Emert and Stephanie Eady, fiduciary administrator Joan Varela, and alumna Yena Kim.