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Leventhal v. Black & LoBello

Supreme Court of Nevada

July 11, 2013

Audie G. LEVENTHAL, Appellant,
v.
BLACK & LOBELLO, Respondent. Audie G. Leventhal, Appellant,
v.
Black & LoBello, Respondent.

Page 908

Robinson & Wood and Keith D. Kaufman, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

Black & LoBello and Michele Touby LoBello, Las Vegas, for Respondent.

BEFORE PICKERING, C.J., HARDESTY and SAITTA, JJ.

OPINION

PICKERING, C.J.

This is an appeal from an order adjudicating a law firm's charging lien for fees against its former client under NRS 18.015. The firm did not serve the statutory notices required to perfect its lien until the case was over. Under NRS 18.015(3), a charging lien only attaches to a " verdict, judgment or decree entered and to ... money or property which is recovered on account of the suit or other action, from the time of service of the notices required by this section. " (Emphasis added.) Since the decree became final months before the lien was perfected— and no prospect of post-perfection recovery appeared— the lien should not have been adjudicated under NRS 18.015(4).

I.

After his wife, Jacqueline, sued appellant Audie Leventhal for divorce, he hired respondent Black & LoBello (LoBello) to represent him. Leventhal's answer to Jacqueline's complaint included a counterclaim seeking to enforce a prenuptial agreement that protected his separate property. In May 2010, a final decree of divorce was entered based on a stipulated marital settlement agreement. Under the stipulated decree, Leventhal retained most of his separate property and was awarded joint custody of his son.

Some months later, Jacqueline and Leventhal returned to court with a post-decree dispute over child custody. Still representing Leventhal, LoBello argued that the post-decree proceeding was so far removed from the original divorce proceeding that it was " really a new action initiated by Jacqueline's most recent Motion." In January 2011, Leventhal and Jacqueline managed to resolve their custodial differences by stipulation. From what appears in the record, the post-decree dispute centered on child custody; its stipulated resolution left Leventhal with joint custody and did not produce any new recovery of money or property.

Leventhal paid LoBello for the firm's work through entry of the final decree. He did not pay LoBello, though, for the fees charged to litigate the post-decree dispute. Eventually, LoBello filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, along with a notice of, and a motion to adjudicate and enforce, a charging lien for unpaid attorney fees. By then, the divorce decree had been final for months, the decree's property-distribution terms had been implemented, and even the post-decree child-custody dispute had been resolved by filed stipulation. As LoBello later acknowledged, with the case effectively over, " [o]bviously, [Leventhal] could not recover anything further."

Page 909

Even so, the district court granted LoBello's post-decree motion to adjudicate and enforce a charging lien. It entered personal judgment for LoBello and against Leventhal for $89,852.69. Leventhal appeals, and we reverse.[1]

II.

...


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