Former NBA star and sometime troublemaker Latrell Sprewell was a no-show in San Francisco federal court Monday over a disputed $92,600 legal bill from one of his former lawyers, Paul F. Utrecht. This all stems from Utrecht’s handling of a legal fight over sale of Sprewell’s Alameda County, California home back in 2002.
Sprewell, the 6-foot, 5-inch guard, played for the Golden State Warriors – until he tried to choke coach P.J. Carlesimo during a 1997 practice session. He then moved to the New York Knicks and later the Minnesota Timberwolves. But he ended his career in 2005 when he turned up his nose at a $21 million, three-year contract with the Timberwolves suggesting it wasn’t enough to feed his kids.
He was due back in San Francisco for a one-day trial with Utrecht, of Zacks & Utrecht. Sprewell and the lawyer were to be the only witnesses over the disputed bill.
A brief flurry of phone calls outside in the hall before the court session gave a glimmer of hope that this would be resolved. Sprewell’s current lawyer Vernon Goins, with a cellphone to his ear, said he might have a deal. But Sprewell apparently wasn’t taking calls at 10 a.m., or maybe he was headed to the airport.
At any rate, Goins asked Magistrate Judge Bernard Zimmerman to delay the trial because of “confusion” on Sprewell’s part about the need to be in San Francisco to testify.
Sprewell thought settlement negotiations over the weekend would have resolved the case so he’s still back in Milwaukee, according to Goins.
“He’s not here?” Zimmerman asked, looking a little incredulous.
Utrecht said his last settlement offer was on Saturday and it was rejected by Sprewell around noon.
Zimmerman ordered the trial to go ahead without Sprewell as a witness.
The exchanges over the bills played like a litany of Sprewell’s past failures to appear in court, or show up for depositions in the property dispute, or allegedly pay his lawyer’s bills.
Utrecht had defended Sprewell against claims by the buyer of Sprewell’s East Bay house after the buyer claimed Sprewell failed to disclose certain defects. Subsequently Utrecht also sued the realtor claiming Sprewell was indemnified against the buyer’s claims.
In court papers, Sprewell maintains that there was no written fee agreement for the work and the legal services “fell below the standard of care of a reasonable attorney.”
Goins suggested through questioning that Utrecht had dragged out the property dispute in order to run up the bills that eventually cost $150,000 more than it should.
Utrecht said, “I believe I made the correct judgment at the time, based on what the client wanted. In hindsight it turned out badly…”
Zimmerman has not ruled yet in the case.
Case: Zacks & Utrecht v. Sprewell, No. C11-1739BZ