Lloyd Kelley, the Houston lawyer who won a $1.7 million civil rights settlement for two brothers who took photos of a 2002 drug raid, has asked a federal judge for $4.4 million in attorney's fees.
Harris County leaders voted two weeks ago to pay Sean and Erik Ibarra to get out of the four-year-old case. The settlement calls for the county to hand over the money by early April, or as soon as practical -- and to pay all attorney's fees, costs and expense related to the case.
The Ibarras will not share their lump-sum payout with Kelley, who must get his fees approved by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt.
The brothers initially sought $5 million in damages.
In a lengthy fee application filed Monday, Kelley argues that the county fought an "indefensible" case, by its own expert's 2005 admission, that turned into a landmark blow to the county's legal defense tactics.
Harris County has 15 days to respond to Kelley's filing.
County Attorney Mike Stafford said he expects the county to question Kelley's basis for the fee and dispute many of his other assertions.
His application asks the court to double the $2.2 million in standard fees under a multiplier that accounts for a case's complexity and riskiness. Lawyer compensation in civil rights claims can be enhanced for those factors and because the lawyers who accept such cases often spend thousands up front. Kelley said he personally invested $130,000 because his clients were poor.
The $2.2 million includes: $2 million for Kelley's work, $86,000 for a legal assistant and $54,000 for the help of Houston lawyer Benjamin Hall.
Stafford said he doesn't think Kelley is entitled to the multiplier.
Kelley's request also mentioned that for the past four years, he and a legal assistant, for the most part, have been fighting the county's vast resources. He alleged Tuesday that the county overstaffed the case by using up to 15 lawyers at a time to defend those targeted by the Ibarras' lawsuit.
"If the government is willing to pay for 15 lawyers, then how much should they be required to pay at the end of the day when they've lost?" Kelley said. "In the last decade, courts have been very punitive about frivolous lawsuits, and they should be equally punitive about frivolous defenses."
The Ibarras' lawsuit is a historic civil case in which an appeals court, for the first time, denied the Harris County sheriff qualified immunity -- which often shields government officials from being sued when carrying out their duties -- and declared that the actions of county employees violated the Fourth Amendment, the constitutional right that guards against unreasonable search and seizure. Kelley said most of the Ibarras' legal fees were racked up during appeals.
The county settled the lawsuit to "avoid the possibility of a historic multimillion-dollar verdict," Kelley wrote in his request.
He added that $4 million in attorney's fees would deter the county from fighting other legitimate civil rights claims.
"If everything was the way Lloyd Kelley describes it in his motion, there never would have been a trial. A jury was called upon to resolve disputed fact issues," Stafford said. "Neither side won on the issues, but obviously, Lloyd Kelley won on the money."
So the repairman can say, your new air conditioner system costs $7000, but here is your bill for $14000 because it was really dark and hot up in your attic.
There is something profoundly wrong with our legal system if the damage award is $1.7 million but the attorney fees are higher at $2.2-$4.4 million.Posted by: ChrisR on March 19, 2008 12:37 PM
** I will be very curious to see how this comes out. **
Me too!Posted by: Kevin Whited on March 19, 2008 12:40 PM
I wonder what Lloyd Kelly's billing rate is? Common folks can only imagine those types of numbers. Sorry, nobody is worth that much money. This stuff is the reason why people don't care for lawyers.Posted by: bobf on March 19, 2008 7:52 PM
Nope. Too much "punitive". Lloyd Kelley doesn't deserve anymore $$ off this case and many of us in his former Heights neighborhood remember very well how he ripped off the system, saw the public works trucks & city forestry workers benefiting his personal investment property. (previous Houston Press story) Public $$ for personal gain seems to be his favorite biz.Posted by: Cathy Courtney on March 20, 2008 2:00 PM
With regard to his rate, from his application for fees:
"In this case, the reasonable hourly rate for
Plaintiffs lead counsel is $650/hour which is his non-contingent rate for paying clients in
the absence of any risk of being paid. See the contemporaneous billing records attached
and the declaration attached as Exhibits A. The reasonable rate for those attorneys
employed at varying time in this matter is $650 for Lloyd Kelley, $650 for Ben Hall,
$350/hour for David Tang, $250/hour for Sherri Riveron and $125 and $75 for legal
assistants. The total straight fee if this had been a client paying regularly for the work on
a non-contingent fee basis would have been $2,220,437.50."
$650.00 per hour is really high but I bet he can show that there are some other lawyers (At places like V&E and Baker Botts that charge that much)
Posted by: Antinome on March 20, 2008 5:17 PM