Attorney Fees

Lawyer's fee request felt 'like an attempted bank robbery,' federal judge says

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For the second time in less than two weeks, a federal judge from the Middle District of Pennsylvania has excoriated a lawyer for a large fee request following a small recovery.

The most recent criticism comes from U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, who has a knack for quotable criticism of lawyers (see here and here). In a decision last week, Brann said lawyer Cynthia Pollick of Pittston had submitted a fee request that “at times, felt more like an attempted bank robbery than a genuine effort to recover a reasonable fee bill.” The Legal Intelligencer (sub. req.), and the Citizen’s Voice covered Brann’s decision.

Brann denied the fee request, fined Pollick $25,000 and said he would submit the matter to lawyer disciplinary authorities.

Brann criticized Pollick for billing in six-minute increments for every incoming and outgoing correspondence, even if it took less time to handle the correspondence. He also said Pollick had sought compensation for a second trial required because of Pollick’s “inflammatory conduct in open court.”

Pollick had sought $727,000 in fees in a civil rights suit against teachers, principals and administrators that settled against one teacher for $25,000, plus attorney fees. The suit had alleged the school had retaliated for complaints about a teacher exposing students to sexually explicit and offensive material.

“Civil rights cases are not get-rich-quick tickets,” Brann said.

“The vast majority of Ms. Pollick’s entries are larded with excreta unbecoming of any attorney in this district (and certainly unbillable to a client under any stretch of the imagination),” Brann wrote.

As an example, he cited 350 time entries with descriptions such as “correspondence from Patti,” “correspondence with Patti about issue” and “correspondence from Patti advising she is putting stuff behind her.”

“These raw, unprocessed entries … are inconsiderately supplied in what appears to be size 8-point font or smaller, comprise 44 separate pages, and frankly should sicken both bench and bar,” Brann wrote.

On Aug. 29, a different federal judge, Malachy Mannion of Scranton, denied a fee petition for nearly $1 million in a case that led to a $250,000 recovery. Mannion called the request “exorbitant” and “woefully deficient,” and referred the two lawyers who sought the money to ethics authorities.

Pollick did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s voice mail seeking comment.

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