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Little Rock Law Firm’s Suspension On Hold in Fee Feud

3 min read

Little Rock attorney Josh Sanford and his law firm can continue to practice law in federal court pending their appeal of a suspension by U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson, who accused them of charging excessive and unearned fees.

On July 19, Wilson ordered that Sanford and his firm be suspended for two years from practicing law in the Eastern District of Arkansas after allegations that they sought excessive fees. Two days later, Wilson amended the order to say that Sanford and his employment law firm were suspended from practicing in any Fair Labor Standards Act cases in the district for 24 months. After the two years, they can ask to lift the suspension, and provide supporting documents on how their practices have changed.

And while they are suspended they have to provide copies of Wilson’s order to every other court, state or federal.

“Any attempt to circumvent this suspension by, for example, associating other lawyers, will be closely examined and Mr. Sanford is directed to advise any lawyers he associates of this fact,” Wilson said in his order.

Sanford immediately appealed the order to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, and it agreed to stay the order pending the appeal. Sanford and his firm are being represented by attorney Jeff Rosenzweig of Little Rock.

“Judge Wilson’s Order is wrong on the facts and the law,” Sanford said in an email to Arkansas Business. “I look forward to the Court of Appeals ultimately vindicating me and Sanford Law Firm.

“I am confident that when other judges have the opportunity to review the allegations that Judge Wilson continues to make against me that the problems will be resolved in short order,” Sanford wrote.

If the order is not reversed, it means Sanford and his firm have to tell their FLSA clients to find another firm for representation in the Eastern District of Arkansas.

And generally, there is a reciprocal enforcement of these types of sanctions in federal court for the Western District of Arkansas.

A feud over the fees can be traced to June 2020, when Wilson found that the Sanford’s firm deserved a single dollar for its work for clients in a 2018 case against Welspun Pipes Inc. to collect unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA. A settlement delivered about $270,000 for about 250 underpaid employees, and called for $96,000 in attorneys’ fees for the Sanford firm.

After the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his $1 ruling as unreasonable, Wilson awarded the firm $500 “based on SLF’s egregious conduct.”

SLF appealed that amount, but it was upheld in a June decision.

Wilson then ordered the firm and Sanford, as its managing partner, to a hearing to be questioned about their settlement negotiations that included “attempting to extort unearned fees from Defendant, unnecessarily extending litigation to get those unearned fees, and repeatedly submitted (in this case and others) fee requests for excessive hourly rates and inflated hours,” Wilson wrote.

No fewer than 14 judges in dozens of cases and the 8th Circuit, in two cases, “have scrutinized and chastised SLF’s billing practices,” Wilson wrote. “Despite these repeated shots across the bow, SLF’s obstinance has persisted. Nothing has changed.”

Sanford said in his email that “We have always done everything that we can to obey not only Judge Wilson, but all of the other judges in front of whom we practice. Tellingly, many of these judges have rules and practices that are directly opposite to Judge Wilson’s orders.”

Sanford said that he and his firm will “continue to serve our clients well while conforming to the policies of the judges we practice before.”

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