Litigation Experience

The matters described below should be viewed as examples of the types of cases Chiles and Prochnow handles and range of results achieved. Each case is different, and past results should not be viewed as predictions or guarantees of resolutions in any other matter.

ESTATE – TRUST LITIGATION

In a recently settled matter, the firm represented two of three adult children who were treated equally as beneficiaries under the family’s will and trust. The third child, the oldest daughter, had cared for the children’s mother during her final years. During this time, the oldest daughter, acting under a power of attorney and as trustee of the family trust, used her access to family funds to assist her husband in a series of successful real estate and business ventures. The family received none of the benefits realized through the success of these ventures.

After a two-week jury trial on claims that included financial abuse of an elder, the case settled. The eldest daughter received no distribution from either her mother’s estate or the trust, and no reimbursement for her attorneys’ fees incurred in defending her actions as trustee. With all family funds used by the oldest daughter and her husband returned to the trust, and all estate monies accounted for, the firm’s two clients divided the entirety of the family trust and their mother’s estate between them.

ESTATE – TRUST LITIGATION

Chiles and Prochnow represented the son of a successful engineer who collected race cars and raced them as a hobby. Recognizing that his son had a similar interest, the father left the race cars to his son in a trust that he had executed along with his second wife. Following the death of the father, the second wife who was now the trustee claimed that the cars that were owned at the time of death were not the same cars that existed when the trust was created. She refused to turn the vehicles over to the son.

Chiles and Prochnow brought suit on behalf of the son. After we took a deposition the case settled with the cars being turned over to the son. The settlement was a satisfactory resolution of the matter that still maintained the relationship between family members.

ESTATE – TRUST LITIGATION

Kenneth Prochnow was retained by the children of a Santa Clara County resident. The children’s mother was deceased; their father had remarried several times. With his fourth wife, the father left the United States and he was living abroad at the time of his death.

After the father’s death, the widow/fourth wife funded the father’s trust with assets of dubious and substantially overstated value. Ken filed suit on the children’s behalf to secure their residual interest in the trust, and recorded a lis pendens on real property that was still held in the father’s name.

After a Santa Clara County Superior Court trial, the children’s claim against the fourth wife was upheld. The father’s liened property was sold and the proceeds of sale were applied to fund the family trust in the amount called for by the declaration of trust. Ken recovered prevailing party attorneys’ fees for their clients in excess of $150,000 against the fourth wife, based upon her resistance to the children’s claim.

The fourth wife then filed a probate petition to drain the trust of its just-acquired assets, now claiming that those assets were required for her support and maintenance. Attorney Prochnow defended the trust and the children’s interest in it against the fourth wife’s claim, which was rejected after a second Superior Court trial.

Chiles and Prochnow then monitored the trust, ensuring that its principal assets were maintained and available for eventual distribution to the children. Recently, upon the death of the fourth wife, those assets were distributed from the trust to the firm’s clients, and the matter concluded.

ESTATE – TRUST LITIGATION

In a recently resolved estate contest, Kenneth Prochnow represented the stepchildren of a decedent. The children’s father had predeceased their stepmother. His will was never found and his estate was not probated; the children received nothing at the time of his death. The stepmother then created a personal services agreement with a caregiver that, if fully realized, would have given the caregiver all her assets. In addition, the stepmother later executed two wills, and a trust, leaving her entire estate to her surviving son and/or the caregiver. When the firm was retained, the stepchildren clients could only advance allegations of a purported mutual reciprocal will that their stepmother had executed decades before and had promised not to revoke; neither the original nor a copy of this mutual reciprocal will had been found.

Through discovery and investigation, the original of the mutual reciprocal will favoring the firm’s clients was found and submitted for probate. Deposition discovery revealed that the wills and trust benefiting the stepmother’s caregiver had been drafted by the caregiver himself. The caregiver was compelled to dismiss with prejudice his petition to probate the wills favoring him, and to dismiss the will contest challenging the clients’ mutual reciprocal will. The stepmother’s son asserted that she had died intestate (given the revocation language in three instruments the stepmother signed in the months before her death).

After many months of contentious litigation, the parties resolved their dispute at the Mandatory Settlement Conference. The firm’s clients received one-half of their stepmother’s estate.

ESTATE – TRUST LITIGATION

Mr. Chiles represented a client who was sued by the executor of her father’s will. The executor claimed that the money the father had given the client was a loan that allowed the executor to recover the amount of the loan, plus $50,000 together with interest for a 15-year period. After carefully examining the facts of the case, Mr. Chiles concluded that a summary judgment motion could and should be brought to establish as a matter of law that the money had been a gift rather than a loan.

Despite the fact that there was a written note executed by the client, Mr. Chiles established that there was no consideration for the note and therefore the money given to the client was a gift. The court upheld as a matter of law that there was no loan. Needless to say, the client who was facing a claim of approximately $150,000 was extremely pleased.

ESTATE – TRUST LITIGATION

In a recently decided case, the Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed an order of the Santa Clara Superior Court’s Probate Department that favored the firm’s client. Kenneth Prochnow was retained by the former spouse of a decedent; the deceased spouse left a purported trust leaving substantial assets to his sister, brother and mother, despite alleged promises and assurances that his assets would be left in trust for the son that he had when married to the firm’s client. Opposing counsel claimed that a “no-contest” clause in the trust would bar the son from any recovery if the firm’s contemplated trust contest was unsuccessful.

The firm secured the former spouse’s appointment as her son’s guardian ad litem, and then filed a Probate Code Sec. 21320 petition for an order granting leave to file the trust contest, despite the no-contest clause. The trial court (Santa Clara County Superior Court, Hon. Eugene Hyman) granted the firm’s petition, accepting the firm’s position that because the trust’s no-contest clause applied by its terms only to actions “voluntarily” filed by a trust contestant, the firm’s proposed petition for the minor son’s guardian ad litem was not the son’s voluntary act and would therefore not fall within the reach of the no-contest clause.

Opposing counsel appealed Judge Hyman’s decision. In a published decision, the Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court order won by the firm, permitting the guardian ad litem‘s trust contest to proceed. See Safai v. Safai, 164 Cal.App.4th 233 (6th Dist. 2008).

INSURANCE CLAIM

Mr. Chiles represented an individual who had sustained a theft loss of personal property when he was moving from one home to another. His insurer attempted to place artificial restrictions on his recovery. Mr. Chiles put together a detailed analysis of the claim complete with an explanation to the insurer why it had acted in bad faith and made a demand for the client’s entire loss. After reviewing Mr. Chiles’ arguments the insurer agreed to pay the loss in full and further agreed to pay the attorney’s fees Mr. Chiles’ client had incurred.

INSURANCE CLAIM

Mr. Chiles represented a family whose home had been destroyed by fire. The client reconstructed his home using a new design and updated construction materials. The insurer refused to make full payment for the loss and Mr. Chiles brought suit against the insurer. Eventually the parties entered into a mediation with Vivienne Williamson, a mediator located in Oakland. Ms. Williamson was able to convince the parties to arrive at a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

INSURANCE INDUSTRY CASE

Mr. Chiles has also been called upon by Chartis, Fireman’s Fund, Allianz and others to provide advice as to whether coverage exists under their policies. One such case involved the Cosco Busan accident in which a container ship (the Cosco Busan) piloted by San Francisco Bar Pilot, John Cota, struck the Bay Bridge. Approximately 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel was released into the San Francisco Bay with significant environmental effects. Claims were brought by fishermen and others affected by the spill. In addition the United States government brought proceedings against the San Francisco Bar Pilots, the Bar Pilot’s Association, the vessel and its owners. The case was eventually settled although the pilot (who Mr. Chiles did not represent) pled guilty to a violation of the Migratory Bird Act for which he received a sentence to federal prison. The case was settled following a marathon mediation held by Daniel Weinstein at his Napa Valley facility.

CONSTRUCTION DISPUTE – MECHANIC’S LIEN

In a recent construction dispute, Kenneth Prochnow was retained by a homeowner whose contractor had recorded a mechanics’ lien against his home for amounts allegedly due and owing under a home improvement contract. For the homeowner, the firm found grounds to attack the mechanics’ lien, and prepared a demurrer to the contractor’s complaint to foreclose the mechanics’ lien. Based upon the threatened demurrer, the contractor dismissed his cause of action for foreclosure and withdrew the mechanics’ lien. Following the firm’s filing and service of a cross-complaint for damages against the contractor, the matter was submitted to mediation. The parties agreed to a compromise resolution satisfactory to both.

EMPLOYMENT LAW

In an employment dispute, Kenneth Prochnow was retained by a brokerage firm employee who alleged that she was wrongfully terminated by the brokerage firm and the registered representative for whom she worked. The brokerage firm petitioned to dismiss or stay the firm’s civil action and its jury trial threat by claiming the benefit of an arbitration clause contained in the employment application the client had filled out at the time the brokerage firm hired her, and signed again when she changed jobs within the firm. Before the trial court, the firm successfully resisted the brokerage firm’s petition to arbitrate, presenting evidence and argument to support the client’s claim that the arbitration agreement was substantively and procedurally unconscionable.

The brokerage firm appealed the trial court’s decision denying its petition for arbitration. With the case pending before the Sixth District Court of Appeals, fully briefed by the parties, the matter was settled just before the scheduled oral argument.

EMPLOYMENT LAW

In an employment dispute, Robert Chiles and Kenneth Prochnow were retained by the former employee of a Silicon Valley high-tech company. The company had terminated the employee’s employment, and then filed an action for injunction and temporary restraining order damages against the employee, based on alleged theft and use of trade secrets. Chiles and Prochnow successfully resisted the company’s claim for injunction and filed its own action for a temporary restraining order and injunction, seeking to restore and retain the employee’s rights to exercise stock options. The trial court granted the employee’s application for a temporary restraining order (preserving the employee’s stock option rights for a time), although the motion for preliminary injunction was denied.

The case settled at the Mandatory Settlement Conference on the Wednesday before trial, with the plaintiff company agreeing at the MSC to dismiss its complaint against the employee, and to pay him $90,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.