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Fee Expert John O’Connor Helps Resolve Fee Dispute in Class Action

January 22, 2019

In a case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Everett Jewett, et. al. v. Shasta County Sheriff Department, et. al., John D. O’Connor, a NALFA member, of O’Connor & Associates in San Francisco was engaged as an expert witness by defense counsel to analyze attorney fees and expenses in the class action.  The underlying case involves the alleged abuse of disabled prisoners in the Shasta County Prison.

The parties settled the class action for $850,000.  Plaintiffs’ total requested lodestar was $1.185M.  The expenses requested were &132,000.  Class counsel also sought a lodestar multiplier was $592,000.  Parties settled the fee dispute matter based largely on John O’Connor’s expert declaration on reasonable attorney fees and expenses.

For more on attorney fee expert John O’Connor, visit www.joclaw.com.

Fee Expert John O’Connor Wins 60 Percent Fee Reduction in Federal Court

January 11, 2019

In a case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Jayantibhai Patel, et al. v. City of Long Beach et. al., NALFA member John D. O’Connor of O’Connor & Associates in San Francisco served as an expert witness on the reasonable of attorney fees on behalf of the non-prevailing party, the City of Long Beach.  Plaintiffs’ attorney Frank Weiser requested $344,000 in fees for prevailing in a claim against the City of Long Beach that its ordinance allowing unannounced inspection of hotel records amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure. 

Attorney fee expert John O’Connor recommended the fee request at $122,000.  The court ultimately awarded $143,880 in attorney fees, reducing plaintiffs’ fee request by 60 percent.  The court keyed in on several issues raised by O’Connor.  U.S. District Judge Andre Birottee cited John O’Connor’s expert declaration several times in the fee ruling.  On hourly rates, Judge Birotte, said, “The Court finds Mr. O’Connor analysis more compelling”. 

For more on John O’Connor, visit www.joclaw.com.

Top Attorney Fee News Headlines of 2018

December 28, 2018

NALFA is a non-profit organization specializing in attorney fees and legal billing.  Our members provide a range of services on attorney fee and legal billing matters.  We host CLE programs on attorney fee and legal billing topics.  Our news blog covers reporting on attorney fee issues from across the U.S.  Here are the top 10 news blog headlines of 2018:

Over $1B in Attorney Fees in Madoff-Related Matter
September 14, 2018

$503M in Attorney Fees in Syngenta GMO Corn Settlement
December 10, 2018

Attorneys Awarded $300M in Fees in Forex Price Fixing Settlement 
November 8, 2018

New Class Action Guidelines Address Attorney Fee Issues in N.D. Cal.
November 7, 2018

Firms Jockey for $159M in Fees in $577M CRT MDL Settlement
October 22, 2018

Law’s $1,000-Plus Hourly Rate Club
July 23, 2018

$112.5M Fee Award in $1B NFL Concussion Settlement
April 6, 2018

$105M in Attorney Fees Sought in Puerto Rico Restructuring
November 16, 2018

Judge Slashes Attorney Fees in Anthem Data Breach Class Action
August 17, 2018

Attorneys Defend $16M Fee Request in Securities Class Action
June 12, 2018

Top NALFA News Blog Headlines of 2018

December 26, 2018

NALFA is a non-profit organization specializing in attorney fees and legal billing.  Our members provide a range of services on attorney fee and legal billing matters.  We host CLE programs on attorney fee and legal billing topics.  Our news blog covers reporting on attorney fee issues from across the U.S.  Here are the top NALFA news blog headlines of 2018:

Law 360 Covers NALFA CLE Program
October 25, 2018

The Nation’s Top Attorney Fee Experts of 2018
May 10, 2018

NALFA Featured in ALM Article on Billing Rates
March 20, 2018

NALFA: The Case Against Serial Class Action Objectors
January 8, 2018

NALFA Honors Bruce R. Meckler
January 2, 2018

Law 360 Covers NALFA CLE Program

October 25, 2018

A recent Law 360 story by Bonnie Eslinger, “Excessive Attys’ Fee Bids Can Backfire, Judges Say,” reported on a NALFA CLE program hosted today, “View From the Bench: Awarding Attorney Fees in Federal Litigation”.  This live, remote, and multi-state CLE featured an all-judicial panel of sitting U.S. District Court judges.  The story reads:

A prevailing party seeking to recover legal fees should resist asking for excessive or unnecessary hours, federal judges said in a panel discussion Thursday, with one jurist noting such entries send up a red flag that makes him "skeptical of the entire application."  Speaking on a conference call organized by the National Association of Legal Fee Analysis, U.S. District Judges Virginia A. Phillips and Gene E.K. Pratter and Magistrate Judge William Matthewman all spotlighted examples of fee requests that didn't align with the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion that fees should only be awarded for hours "reasonably expended" on a case.

Judge Phillips of the Central District of California said that judges spend substantial time combing through billing entries, adding, "Surprising things show up when you take a careful look at the bills."  Judge Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania agreed, saying the most amusing item she once found in an attorney's billing sheet was a calculation that he did 27 hours of work within one day.  It turned out the lawyer had failed to take into account the time zone changes when flying, she said.  The court's review of an attorney's fee request "sometimes requires a check on reality and then a check on Greenwich mean time," Judge Pratter said, chuckling.

Judge Matthewman of the Southern District of Florida said that lawyers shouldn't try to include excessive, redundant or unnecessary hours in their fee bid.  "That comes up constantly with me, where I will see perhaps excessive hours on reading a docket entry … or looking at the local rules, or opening mail, or doing administrative tasks, or really doing things that are unnecessary, such as preparing for a press conference, or perhaps there's a lot of client handholding in the case," Judge Matthewman said. "Things of that nature."

"Lawyers would do much better on these applications if they themselves would sort of police themselves and exclude excessive or redundant, unnecessary hours, so we see less of it or none of it, and we have more comfort in the application.  Once we start seeing a lot of these excessive and unnecessary requests for fees, it sort makes us skeptical of the entire application," the judge added.

Judge Phillips also noted that if an attorney is asking for a high hourly rate, based on his or her experience, then she's looking to see how much time the lawyer is spending on simple tasks.  "If you're entitled to a high hourly rate because of your immense experience, then you shouldn't really have to be spending a lot of time looking at the local rules of civil procedure," the judge said.

When fighting a fee request by the prevailing party, opposing counsel would do well to look for such concerns and make precise objections, Judge Matthewman said.  But avoid pejoratives, Judge Pratter suggested.  "There's no reason to call you opponent avaricious," she said.  Judge Matthewman agreed, saying those kinds of comments will hurt a party's fee request.

Attorneys seeking reimbursement of their fees also don't pay enough attention to requirements that they base their billing on reasonable, prevailing hourly rates, the judges said.  Often, attorneys don't provide enough information to justify their rates, Judge Phillips said.  "Ideally, under the case law, we should have a survey, some survey evidence, a declaration from someone who's qualified to opine on what the prevailing rate is in that community for this type of case," the judge said.  "But often I get nothing but the declaration of the party, of the attorney who's seeking the fees, saying, 'This is when I graduated and these are all the Best Lawyers awards I've ever gotten.'" 

Judge Matthewman added that it's irksome when attorneys from an expensive jurisdiction, such as New York City, come down to Florida for a case and then seek to be reimbursed for an hourly rate they would get in Manhattan.  Later in the discussion, Judge Matthewman said that when considering a fee request, he takes into consideration the quality of the attorney's work and representation.  "If you have a case where the fee applicant's attorney has been overly litigious, very difficult in the discovery process, very difficult on everything, agreeing on nothing, the court understands and knows that this increases the attorneys' fees that are incurred by both sides in the case," the judge said.  "And I think that's a factor that's taken into account."

On the flip side, an attorney who "makes the flow easy," gets rewarded by the court, he added.  Judge Phillips agreed, saying she frequently deals with top lawyers who may have high rates but get good results with "lean" hours.  "Lawyers who are really good, then, don't drop the ball on their fee petitions," Judge Pratter added.  "And lawyers who still have a ways to go somehow, miraculously, don't do so good on their fee petitions either."  The Pennsylvania judge also noted during the panel hearing that the Third Circuit guidelines direct judges to make fee reductions based on meritorious objections from the opposing party and not necessarily to rule sua sponte.

But later on in the discussion, Judge Pratter noted that there are times when the court should lean in with its own judgment, such as when there is a settlement in a class action lawsuit.  The court has a responsibility to look out for the class, she said.  "You cannot rely on the defendants to be acting as a brake on the fees," the judge said.  "The defendants come in, and they and the plaintiff's lawyers are all friendly and hugging each other about how important everybody's work was.  So that's always a flashing light for the court to become particularly attentive to its duties to the absent class members."

Ultimately, the judge said, attorneys should know that judges are not trying to be "mean-spirited" when they are scrutinizing attorney fee requests.  Nor are they jealous of the lawyers, she said.  They're just trying to carry out their duty.  "Most of us, we've been there," Judge Pratter said.  "We understand what it means to have to keep track of time.  I'll tell you, by the way, that's one of the best things about coming over to the other side, [giving] up time sheets."

NALFA Podcast with Glenn Newberry

March 9, 2018

NALFA continued its podcast series with an interview with Glenn Newberry.  Glenn Newberry is the Head of Costs Unit and Legal Director at Eversheds Sutherland International LLP in London.   He is a...

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