Attorney Fees

Appeals Court Judge Questions Fee Boost for Exceptional Work

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A federal appeals court judge has questioned fee enhancements for exceptional legal work in what the blog How Appealing calls “a must-read decision” for many in the class-action bar.

Although Judge Edward Carnes of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Court of Appeals questioned the fee award, he nonetheless said precedent required him to uphold $10.5 million in fees for lawyers who successfully challenged Georgia’s foster care system, according to the Fulton County Daily Report. Two other judges did not join the part of Carnes’ opinion questioning a 75 percent enhancement of the award in the case.

Carnes said increasing the award for good lawyering double counts qualities captured by hourly billing or the contingent nature of the case. He said plaintiffs’ lawyers should not be given more money for simply winning what the law allows, nor should they be rewarded for winning more than the law allows.

“A result that obtains more or better relief than plaintiffs are entitled to receive under the law is, to the extent it exceeds their entitlement on the merits, analogous to relief on a meritless claim,” he wrote in the opinion (PDF). “To put it in an either-or manner, superb results are either what a fair application of the law produces, which means that they are not truly ‘superb,’ or they are results that exceed what the law allows and for that reason are beyond the purpose of the fee-shifting statutes.”

Carnes started his opinion with a quote from John D. Rockefeller, who reportedly said “just a little bit more” money would be enough for him. “The attorneys for the plaintiff class in this case want more than just a little bit more,” Carnes wrote. “They want a lot more money” than the amount they would receive based on hourly fees.

The leading lawyers who won the fees were State Bar of Georgia President Jeffrey Bramlett and Marcia Robinson Lowry of Children’s Rights Inc. Both defended the awards in interviews with the Daily Report; Lowry said civil rights lawyers need to receive reasonable fees because they will be unable to recover certain costs.

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