In a refreshing change from sign companies suing the city, one of L.A.’s most notorious purveyors of illegal sign blight has sued a major L.A. law firm for legal malpractice, claiming that the firm caused the company’s demise by advising it to put up as many unpermitted signs as possible before the city amended its ban on the signs to pass constitutional muster.
In the lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court last week, the Pennsylvania company, World Wide Rush, and its owner, Barry Rush, claim that bad advice from the L.A.-based multinational law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Field led to more than $2 million in losses and damages and the company’s demise.
World Wide Rush began wrapping buildings with multi-story supergraphic signs in a wide area of the city more than four years ago. After the signs were cited by the city as illegal, the company sued in U.S. District Court, and in 2008 a judge ruled that the city’s ban on the signs was unconstitutional because it allowed exceptions in certain cases.
World Wide Rush was represented in those court proceedings by a Newport Beach attorney named Paul Fisher, who was later disbarred after pleading guilty to felonies stemming from having had sex with an inebriated 15-year old girl.
The legal malpractice lawsuit alleges that Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Field was retained to give World Wide Rush legal advice on city laws and regulations, and shortly after the federal court ruling advised the company to “put up signs at as many locations as possible before the city amends its ordinance to impose new bans.”
Three months later, the city adopted a moratorium on any new off-site signs and in 2009 amended its sign ordinance to remove the exceptions the judge had found unconstitutional. But last year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision, and shortly thereafter the World Wide Rush supergraphic signs on buildings in Mid-Wilshire, Westwood, the San Fernando Valley, and Hollywood, among other areas, began to disappear.
In the meantime, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich sued World Wide Rush and almost 30 other business entities and property owners, seeking millions in damages for the time the illegal vinyl and fabric signs were up. That lawsuit is still pending in L.A. County Superior Court.
The legal malpractice lawsuit alleges that Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Field, which has offices in 16 U.S. and foreign cities, charged World Wide Rush a $25,000 retainer and up to $1,050 per hour for its legal advice. In a possible irony, the Hollywood offices of Beecher & Webb, the law firm now representing World Wide Rush, are in a building where an illegal supergraphic sign was maintained for almost two years.
That supergraphic sign was put up by CBS Outdoor, according to a lawsuit filed by Trutanich against the company earlier this year. CBS Outdoor settled that lawsuit by agreeing to pay the city more than $4 million in damages for that sign and several others.