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Manigault v. Daly & Sorenson, LLC

Supreme Court of Wyoming

March 27, 2018

GABRIELLE MANIGAULT, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
DALY & SORENSON, LLC, Appellee (Respondent).

          Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable Michael N. Deegan, Judge

          Representing Appellant:Jamie M. Woolsey of Fuller, Sandefer & Associates, L.L.C., Casper, Wyoming

          Representing Appellee Scott P. Klosterman of Williams, Porter, Day & Neville, P.C., Casper, Wyoming

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL [*] , DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          DAVIS, Justice.

         [¶1] Petitioner Gabrielle Manigault seeks review of a decision in favor of her former attorneys, Daly & Sorenson, LLC, by a panel of the Wyoming State Bar Committee for Resolution of Fee Disputes. That decision was affirmed by the district court, and we in turn affirm that decision.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] Manigault raises two issues that may be succinctly restated as follows:

1. Did the panel err in concluding it was neither unreasonable nor abusive for Daly & Sorenson to bill its time using minimum increments of fifteen minutes?
2. Did the panel err in concluding the law firm exercised billing judgment and did not excessively bill Manigault for communication between firm members and employees about her case?

         FACTS

         [¶3] For more than sixteen years, Manigault retained Daly & Sorenson to represent her in ninety-seven separate legal matters ranging from land and oil and gas transactions to ranching, domestic relations, and criminal matters. She typically paid her bills and any accrued interest when proceeds from her oil and gas interests and cattle sales became available.

         [¶4] In late 2012, she retained the firm with respect to one of the matters that gave birth to the present case. Manigault's mother sued her to collect on two separate promissory notes on which she owed nearly three million dollars, and to collect accumulated interest, late fees, and attorney fees.

         [¶5] The case ultimately settled when Manigault agreed to confess judgment in favor of her mother (notwithstanding her initial position that the money received from her mother was a gift), and in exchange her mother agreed to forgive the entire debt and write off the loss on her taxes. Manigault paid the law firm roughly thirty percent of what it billed in that case, leaving an unpaid balance of approximately $13, 116.33.

         [¶6] Earlier in 2012, she retained Daly & Sorenson for what the parties call "the trust litigation." It involved the large estate of Manigault's father and its complex distribution through numerous family trusts and family partnerships and his will. Although she and her son were beneficiaries of those trusts, they were controlled by her stepmother, brother, and several attorneys and financial planners. Moreover, they were created and situated in several states and involved far-flung assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The trusts' corpora included stock in publishing companies, holdings in various media outlets, plantations and historic pre-revolution homes in South Carolina, and ranchlands in Wyoming and Montana.

         [¶7] The litigation in the trust case primarily involved a trust created in North Carolina and the District of Columbia, which included property in North Carolina and a ranch in Sheridan County, Wyoming. Manigault entered the Sheridan County property to investigate whether the asset was being subjected to waste at the hands of the trustee. The trustee then accused her of trespass and interference with trust operations, and sought to limit her access to any trust property. The ensuing litigation raised issues regarding waste or embezzlement of trust assets, the current location and value of those assets, proper funding of the ...


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