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Opposites Attract at Camarillo Litigation Firm

At the new Camarillo firm West Corzine LLP, the partners come at legal issues from opposing ends of the client spectrum. Eugene West has more than 25 years of experience defending insurance companies, focusing on insurance coverage and breach of contract cases. Ian Corzine represents homeowners, business owners and life insurance policyholders when their insurance company refuses to pay a claim. He specializes in litigation involving bad faith or insurance coverage disputes. Corzine said the pair met when representing opposing sides in an insurance dispute that went to mediation. After the case was resolved, West proposed putting together a law firm. The California Bar Association has a rule against conflicts of interest, but it applies to individual lawyers, not partners in a firm. In addition, a CBA explanation specifically states the rule “is not intended to prohibit a member from representing parties having antagonistic positions on the same legal question that has arisen in different cases.” Corzine said they avoid conflicts because each partner concentrates on a narrow niche. “Gene represents smaller insurance companies, while in my practice I sue the giants like Farmers, Travelers and Safeco,” Corzine said. “We don’t have conflicts.” The two took different paths to a career in insurance law. Before he became an attorney, West worked as an insurance agent, claim adjuster and underwriter. Corzine was formerly a prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department. When his bosses told him he needed private firm experience to move up the career ladder, he landed a job at Monteleone & McCrory LLP, a business litigation firm in downtown Los Angeles. He grew to like insurance law and took the entrepreneurial route when West proposed forming a company. The firm was launched in January. Aside from the two name partners, it has a two person support staff. But Corzine expects to expand the roster to three or four attorneys in the next two years in response to demand. A lot of his caseload comes from business owners who submit a claim that is either denied or receives a minimal payout offer. “While our practice is narrow, we are successful because in this economy, people aren’t walking away from denials as often as they used to,” he said. “And even in these difficult times, carriers are making millions. One way to do it is to rely on denials.” In one recent case, a client suffered a loss when a worker embezzled money. Its insurance company denied the claim because the worker was an independent contractor, not an employee, even though the policy never stated that it only covered employees. “We are currently in a legal battle with that carrier,” Corzine said. Startup Partner Robyn McKibbin is the new partner at Stone Cha & Dean, a Woodland Hills firm that opened early this year. She will run the firm’s employment law group. McKibbin formerly worked at Stone, Rosenblatt & Cha, which closed down at the end of last year. She has worked with all of the startup’s name partners: Greg Stone, John Cha and Kristi Dean. Business is brisk, McKibben said, because a lot of disgruntled ex-employees are inclined to feel discriminated against over losing their job during the economic downtown. Companies are vigorously defending these suits, but with the closure late last year of 10 courthouses in Los Angeles County, it’s getting harder for employers to get their day in court. “It’s going to be more expense to defend these cases because they will go on longer,” she said. “We are trying to emphasize preventative measures to keep clients out of trouble.” Meanwhile, her firm is looking to hire and bring on new partners as business ramps up. “We are always interested in expanding our practice, but it depends on how they could complement our current client base,” she said. The firm’s main clients include Albertsons Inc., Total Woman, Cemex S.A. and Kroger Co. Random Cases Kurtz Law Group in Woodland Hills has moved its second office to a new location in Santa Barbara. The new address is 831 State St. The firm, founded by attorney Barry Kurtz, specializes in franchise law with clients that include El Pollo Loco Holdings Inc., Carrows Restaurant Group Inc., and Closet Factory Inc. … Nicholas Kanter is the newest shareholder at Lewitt Hackman in Encino. He is a business litigator specializing in trademark and real estate cases. The firm, organized as a professional corporation, has about 20 shareholders, the equivalent of partners at a traditional partnership. … Valley Community Legal Foundation, the philanthropic organization affiliated with the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, will hold its annual fundraising gala June 1 at the Autry in Griffith Park. Those honored include Sandi Gibbons, the long-time spokeswoman at the Los Angeles district attorney’s office who retired in March; Jackie Lacey, the newly elected district attorney; and Aviva Bobb, retired judge at L.A. County. Staff reporter Joel Russell can be reached at (818) 316-3124 or jrussell@sfvbj.com.

Joel Russel
Joel Russel
Joel Russell joined the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006 as a reporter. He transferred to sister publication San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2012 as managing editor. Since he assumed the position of editor in 2015, the Business Journal has been recognized four times as the best small-circulation tabloid business publication in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Previously, he worked as senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine and editor of Business Mexico.
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