New Orleans attorney sued for allegedly interfering in settlement negotiations

Michelle Keahey Oct. 3, 2011, 7:22am

A lawsuit has been filed against New Orleans attorney James L. Arruebarrena for alleged interference in settlement negotiations.

Cherie Garman filed suit against Arruebarrena, as well as Helix Energy Solutions Group and United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, on Sept. 19 in federal court in New Orleans.

Garman accuses Arruebarrena of interfering in mediation regarding a discrimination lawsuit with her former employer.

Garman, an African American female, initiated the lawsuit against her former employer, Helix Energy Solutions Group, for allegedly discriminating against her based on her race and gender.

She claims she was prevented from job advancement and pay increases, paid less than male co-workers and sexually harassed. Garman filed charges with the EEOC on March 1, and the EEOC hosted a mediation in May. Two days before the mediation, Garman contacted Arruebarrena and his associate, but she did not sign a contract with the attorneys. According to Garman's suit, Arruebarrena's associate called and listened to the EEOC mediation by telephone.

Pursuant to the mediation agreement, Helix Energy agreed to pay Garman $100,000 and she agreed to indemnify Helix. Shortly thereafter, Arruebarrena sued Garman in Orleans Parish Civil District Court claiming breach of contract and fraud, alleging he was entitled to $40,000 of the settlement money as a contingency fee. Arruebarrena copied his lawsuit to Helix Energy, who has now refused to release the last $40,000 of the settlement to Garman.

Garman argues that Helix Energy has violated the settlement agreement and now the agreement is now null and void.

Arruebarrena is accused of knowing that he must have a written, recorded contract in order to have standing to intervene and claim any portion of settlement funds. He is also accused of creating the material breach in Garman's settlement agreement by threatening Helix with litigation.

The plaintiff is asking the court to stay the proceedings in the Orleans Parish District Court cases or merge the cases with the federal case. She is also asking for an award of all damages, attorney's fees and court costs.

Garman is represented by Thibodaux attorney Nicholas J. Zeringue and Samuel Accardo and Joseph Accardo, Jr. of Accardo Law Firm in LaPlace. A jury trial is requested.

U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance is assigned to the case.

Case No. 2:11-cv-02341

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