Following a lawsuit that resulted in the redrawing of Maine’s Congressional districts, a three-judge federal panel ruled that the requested legal fees from the action be slashed by 53%, reports the Am Law Daily. The attorneys affected by the ruling include Timothy Woodcock of Eaton Peabody, and four Baker and Hostetler attorneys including election law counsel Mark Braden, who requested about $150,000 in fees following their success in the litigation representing the Plaintiff’s interest. Citing overstaffing and redundant work, the award of attorney’s fees was ultimately reduced to $70,400.
The litigation stemmed from the results of the 2010 US Census, which documented an increase of 53,000 Maine residents over the past decade, the majority of which reside in the first of Maine’s two districts. The swell in the first district created a population spread between two districts of 8,669 (versus a spread of 23 people following the last redistricting). With an election year looming, residents of the first Congressional district claimed that waiting until 2013 to redistrict (as dictated by the State’s Constitution) would “improperly dilute” their Constitutional voting rights.
The defendants in the action – originally as filed in the complaint – included the state Governor Paul Lepage, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, and the Bureau of Corporations, Elections & Commissions of the state. Although the listed defendants agreed with the Plaintiffs that the redistricting scheme was unconstitutional, Maine’s Democratic Party joined the suit as an intervener claiming the scheme was not unconstitutional, thus requiring the matter to be fully litigated. Ultimately, the court ruled for the plaintiffs and ordered the state to draw new lines prior to January 1, 2012, and the state constitution was amended to align redistricting with census data in the future.
However, the question of legal costs still remained, and counsel for the plaintiffs sought awards of $41,200 for Woodcock and his paralegal, approximately $103,000 for Baker and Hostetler attorneys, $6,200 for data analyst Clark Bensen, and about $25,000 for election law counsel Mark Braden. The defendants immediately filed an objection to the request claiming the amount was excessive on numerous grounds, namely that Woodcock was the only attorney to make an appearance in the case, rendering the work of the Baker and Hostetler attorneys, the data expert, and the paralegal redundant.
Additionally, the defendants claimed the hourly rates of Braden and the Baker & Hostetler associates were excessive given their relative experience. Specifically, the associates were charging between $350 to $420 per hour, when the prevailing rate for an associate with similar experience and expertise in Maine was around $175 an hour. Finally, the defense argued the fees of the data analyst should be struck entirely because “they could not determine what he did and had difficulty figuring out why his expertise in census data was needed in this case.” The final award amount requested by the defense totaled a mere $47,200.
Although the judges did not reduce the award of legal fees in the amount requested by the defense, they did slash the final award from about $150,000 to $70,400, citing that “plaintiff’s overall staffing pattern was excessive, resulting in the billing of duplicative and unproductive hours.” Notably, Braden’s billing rate was cut from $595 to $475 following the plaintiff’s failure to prove his billing amount was the prevailing rate charged in Washington D.C. (where he chiefly practices), resulting in a total award of only $14,000 versus the $25,000 he had originally requested. Additionally, the Baker and Hostetler associates’ rates were cut to $175 per hour, as the defense had requested based on Maine standards, and the amount of their billable hours in the action was halved by the court in consideration of the “redundant and overlapping work.”
Braden discussed his dismay at the ultimate decision of the court with the media, stating that he believed the location of the litigation had a lot to do with the reduction in fees. “If this had been in New York or even Boston, no one would’ve cared to blink an eye,” he said. Additionally he stated, “I thought I was a bargain at $595.” There is rumor that plaintiff’s counsel plan to collectively appeal the decision, although there is no definite word on it yet.