Court Awards GAO $225,000 in Legal Fees Over Records Fight

Emails revealed Hollywood and other wealthy donors quietly financing law firm, with charitable foundation serving as pass-through for millions in “charitable grants”

Financing raises disclosurepossible ethics and tax questions

Late last month, the Superior Court for Los Angeles County awarded Government Accountability & Oversight $225,000 for local counsel James K.T. Hunter’s time spent litigating the California Public Records Act litigation, Government Accountability & Oversight v. Regents.

This lawsuit to obtain public access to public records spanned just over two years, in which the University waged a scorched-earth effort of obstruction, enlisting a team of lawyers including a major law firm’s former chair of global litigation and of its appellate practice group, for what the school then insisted to the court was really a nothingburger of a case.

Based on the hundreds of hours GAO’s two lawyers were forced to spend on the matter, it seems likely that UCLA paid its own outside firm five or more times that amount. As such, GAO is still struggling to discern the school’s actual view of the importance of the matter.

A hint as to the suit’s importance can be found in the substance of what GAO learned on the public’s behalf. In April, the court ordered UCLA to release most of what GAO sought, following which GAO broke the story laid out in those records that Leonardo DiCaprio and at least one green Republican donor (and quite possibly another, influential Republican donor, Andrew Sabin) have — from the beginning — privately financed the wave of “climate nuisance” litigation brought on behalf of governmental entities by the law firm Sher Edling, LLP.

The millions of dollars were run through a public charity as “charitable donations” to the firm. This pre-paid financing model of suits — which are nonetheless being prosecuted under extraordinarily generous “contingency fee” agreements offering amounts typically associated with firms taking the risk of not being paid for the work — seemingly represents a revolution in the legal industry.

So, GAO is pleased to announce that, although it took two years of litigation for the public to learn about this, despite UCLA’s apparent willingness to do and spend anything to keep this under wraps, the public now better understands the climate litigation industry and even its genesis: Hollywood bigwigs taking tax deductions to launch a legal tsunami.

That suggests one reason why the University fought and spent as it did.

These revelations might well have implications for one or more of the “climate” lawsuits the Hollywood money is actually paying for.

As GAO and the public further assess the meaning of this and related information, GAO expects further developments on this issue.