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Attorney cuts out GOP clients over fees cap bill (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – An attorney known as the country’s king of lemon law litigation said Friday that he will no longer represent Wisconsin Republicans because he’s disgusted with a bill working its way through the Legislature that would cap lawyer fees.

Vince Megna told The Associated Press that he already has turned down one potential client he had been talking to since summer.

“I’m just not going to help them get redress under the very laws they helped destroy,” the Milwaukee lawyer said.

Megna is upset with a bill that passed the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday that would make it a presumption that attorneys’ fees should be no greater than three times the damages awarded. The bill was motivated largely by a case in which Megna was awarded more than $150,000 in fees.

Megna and dozens of other people testified against the proposal, arguing it would destroy Wisconsin’s consumer protection law because attorneys would be unwilling to take smaller cases that may take a lot of time to litigate.

Megna, a Democrat, called the Republican-led public hearing process a fraud and a sham, and said he believes the measure’s passage in the GOP-controlled Legislature was preordained, despite the overwhelming testimony against it.

“In response, I’m not representing Republicans in my practice. Period,” Megna said. That prohibition will also extend to his wife’s family, who are all Republicans, he said.

“They can try to find somebody else or live with it,” Megna said.

Sen. Rich Zipperer of Pewaukee, one of the bill’s Republican co-sponsors, said he wasn’t surprised by Megna’s comments given that he is a Democrat. And despite what Megna said about the hearing, Zipperer said it was a result of testimony at the hearing that led to changing the bill to give judges the power to award more in fees if it’s warranted.

Megna, 67, is known nationally for his extensive work representing clients who sue under Wisconsin’s lemon law, which is designed to protect consumers who buy faulty vehicles. He has argued more than 1,500 lemon law cases and won more than 700 cases against General Motors alone.

He won a $385,000 verdict against DaimlerChrysler Corp. in 2006, and in 2010 he won a $482,000 judgment against Mercedes Benz, which he said at the time was the largest award of its kind involving a single vehicle.

But it was Megna’s case against Burlington, Wis., car dealer John Lynch Chevrolet-Pontiac that led to the bill’s introduction. Megna represented a man who alleged the dealer charged him $5,000 for a repair he didn’t authorize.

A Racine County judge ruled in the dealer’s favor, but a state appeals court said the truck owner didn’t have to pay since he didn’t consent to the repairs. The sides settled days before the trial was to start, with the dealer agreeing to pay $12,500 for damages, $151,250 in legal fees and $5,284 in costs.
The dealership owner, David Lynch, is a Republican donor.

Republican backers of the bill said the case against Lynch pointed to the need to put a lid on attorneys’ fees. The bill as originally introduced would have capped the fees at three-times damages awarded, but the version that passed the Senate was softened to give the judge the discretion to award more.

The proposal must pass the Assembly and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before taking effect. Walker asked that the bill be introduced during the current special session, which he had said would be devoted to putting in place job creation measures.

Megna, who gave $100 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett in 2010, said he’s never asked nor cared about his clients’ party affiliation in the past. He said he had no idea how many clients he may lose, but that he’s can retire whenever he wants, so he doesn’t care.

He said he didn’t believe he was violating any laws or ethical guidelines by discriminating against clients based on their political affiliation. The prohibition will apply only to new clients, not existing ones, he said.

Megna would not be in violation of the state’s rules of professional conduct, said Keith Sellen, director of the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation. Nothing prevents him or another attorney from declining representation based on a client’s political affiliation, he said.

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