Law Firm Seeks Confirmation of Arbitrator's Award Against Former Lawmaker

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A prominent law firm is seeking a judge's order confirming an arbitration award of nearly $1 million the firm alleges former Assemblyman Matthew Dababneh owes it for fees and costs associated with filing a defamation suit against a woman who accused the ex-lawmaker of sexual assault and also contesting her allegations in proceedings in the Legislature.

Glaser, Weil, Fink, Howard, Avchen & Shapiro LLP maintains in its Los Angeles Superior Court petition that $930,930 is due the firm based on its representation of the former Woodland Hills politician during an assembly committee investigation into Sacramento lobbyist Pamela Lopez's allegations against him as well as Dababneh's subsequent civil action against his accuser.

Glaser Weil's petition was filed Feb. 14 and a hearing on its motion is scheduled May 25 before Judge Wendy Chang. A representative for Dababneh could not be immediately reached for comment.

Dababneh, a 42-year-old Democrat, was elected in January 2014 and resigned in January 2018, telling The Los Angeles Times, "My stepping down isn't out of guilt or out of fear. It's out of an idea that I think it's time for me to move on to new opportunities."

In her Jan. 20 decision, arbitrator Barbara Reeves found that Glaser Weil's representation of Dababneh in the two matters "required considerable legal skill and time" and the firm "litigated every issue from the pleading stage, through discovery and motions."

Lopez alleged Dababneh sexually assaulted her in January 2016 in a hotel suite bathroom at a friend's pre-wedding celebration in Las Vegas, but Dababneh maintained he only said "hello" to Lopez and called her allegations "false and malicious," according to Reeves.

In June 2018, the state Assembly Rules Committee sent Mr. Dababneh a letter stating that its investigation "substantiated" Lopez's allegations, finding that it was "more likely than not that the facts alleged did occur" and that his conduct violated the Assembly's sexual harassment policy, according to Reeves, who further said Dababneh eventually reached a settlement with the committee of subsequent legal proceedings.

Following extensive litigation in the defamation case, a state appellate court panel directed a trial judge to grant Lopez's anti-SLAPP motion and dismiss the lawsuit, according to Reeves.

The state's anti-SLAPP -- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation -- law is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

While Dababneh "did not prevail as he had hoped," the courts look to the facts and circumstances at the time the fee agreement was made, Reeves wrote.

"The fairness of a fee agreement is not typically examined by hindsight," according to Reeves. "At the time the engagement letter and amendment were entered into, Glaser Weil explained the risks and potential high expenses of pursuing the matters to Mr. Dababneh, and Mr. Dababneh signed the engagement letter and amendment."

Dababneh did not take part in the arbitration and has not contested the reasonableness of the fees sought, Reeves wrote.

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