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Lawsuit Nearing End Against Former Attorney for Sycamore Canyon Landslide Repair Foundation

A case over fees related to a nearly $80 million settlement comes down to closing arguments

David Casselman and the Landslide Repair Foundation were back in court Friday before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle, coming one step closer to the denouement of a case that has gone through a few twists and turns since a landslide closed parts of Sycamore Canyon Road in 2005.

Casselman, a Tarzana-based attorney, represented the Landslide Repair Foundation when it won a nearly $80 million settlement — one of the largest in county history — with Caltrans for a group of Sycamore Canyon residents whose homes were damaged in the slide. Now, he’s being sued by the foundation, which claims that he extracted unwarranted payments from the settlement money in the amount of $873,000.

“Mr. Casselman spent a considerable amount of time on the stand trying to explain where the money went,” foundation attorney Mark Jameson said, alleging that Casselman had been involved in conflicts of interest and failures to disclose information to the foundation when he received the money. “This case is not about a well-qualified lawyer who won a fantastic settlement; this is about an attorney who failed to avoid conflicts in that case when the honeymoon of the settlement was over.”

Casselman, part of the Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten firm, contends that after waiving fees that the foundation was technically obligated to pay, he used all of the $873,000 in question to pay for experts, depositions and court filing fees associated with the case.

“When the settlement came in, we repaid our expenses and repaid ourselves for the costs put out,” Casselman told Noozhawk. “Now that the repair is almost done and we’re ready to collect our fees, they’re saying that we’re not entitled to payment.”

Casselman’s attorney, Peter Ezzell of Los Angeles, was unable to complete his closing argument before Anderle adjourned the session for the weekend, but in his response to Jameson’s closing, he explained that the homeowners affected by the slide received all of the money that they were entitled to in the settlement.

“The notion that Mr. Casselman has soiled his excellent reputation with greed and duplicity is an out and out lie,” said Ezzell, adding that Casselman has identified strongly with the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished” as of late. “The homeowners have gotten every dime that they’re entitled to under the settlement and retainer agreements. The experts have gotten every dime they’re entitled to. The only person who has been shortchanged is my client.”

Anderle has an obligation to assist another judge with an unrelated jury trial, and several of the key players have vacations and other obligations to attend to in the interim, so it remains unclear when the case will resume.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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