California Employment Law Blog

Snoeck v. ExakTime: The Cost of Incivility

Posted by Timothy B. Del Castillo | Jan 11, 2024 | 0 Comments

In the legal field, civility is more than just a courtesy—it is a fundamental principle that upholds professionalism, integrity, and the smooth functioning of the justice system. A recent case, Snoeck v. Exaktime Innovations, Inc. (2023), demonstrates the far-reaching consequences that uncivil behavior can have, particularly in regard to attorney fees.

Steve Snoeck, the plaintiff and appellant, filed a lawsuit against ExakTime alleging wrongful termination and five additional claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). After a mixed verdict in June 2019, in which Snoeck prevailed on one claim but ExakTime prevailed on the other five, the jury awarded Snoeck $130,088 in damages.

Subsequently, Snoeck sought attorney fees as the prevailing FEHA plaintiff, requesting a lodestar amount of $1,193,870 plus a 1.75 multiplier, totaling $2,089,272.50. However, the trial court, recognizing the incivility displayed by Snoeck's counsel, applied a 40% reduction to the adjusted lodestar calculation. Snoeck appealed, arguing that the fee reduction was an unjust penalty.

On appeal, the Court considered various factors, including the complexity of the issues, litigation skill, and the contingent nature of the fee award.

Particular emphasis was placed on the “skill in litigation” factor, with the Court asserting that “civility is an element of skill.” The Court cited instances of incivility by Snoeck's counsel during the trial, such as accusing ExakTime's counsel of lying, committing fraud, and engaging in brazen and sleazy conduct. The Court observed incivility directed at both ExakTime and the trial court, characterized by a belittling and antagonistic tone that bordered on contempt.

Additionally, the Court cited emails in which Snoeck's counsel accused ExakTime's counsel of deceiving and taking advantage of the trial court, treating it as a pushover. The Court noted that these tactics continued on appeal, with accusations of misleading the Court, making intentional misstatements, presenting a fraudulent defense, and lying.

Upon reviewing this conduct, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's 40% fee reduction, citing the substantial evidence of incivility by Snoeck's attorney. While recognizing that incivility does not warrant State Bar discipline, the Court emphasized that all licensed attorneys must conduct themselves civilly.

Snoeck v. Exaktime now sets a precedent allowing courts to apply negative multipliers for prevailing plaintiffs engaging in uncivil conduct. This case underscores the necessity for legal practitioners to maintain respect and civility within the California legal system, emphasizing that a failure to do so can result in significant financial consequences.

About the Author

Timothy B. Del Castillo

Tim Del Castillo is Founding Partner of Castle Law: California Employment Counsel, PC.


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