Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Judge Calls Fee Request “Attempted Robbery”

fees and billing Here’s a free risk management tip: it’s never a good sign when a judge calls your fee request an “attempted bank robbery.”

Just ask this lawyer in Pennsylvania, who was blasted from the federal bench for submitting a whopping fee petition after a small recovery in a civil rights suit.

The case was brought against a number of school administrators, teachers and principals, but eventually settled for what was described as “nuisance value” against only one teacher for $25,000 plus attorney fees.

Fireworks erupted over the fee amount. Plaintiffs’ counsel filed a petition – which included dozens of pages of time logs printed in teeny tiny font - asking for $727,000. This was received somewhat less than favorably by U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, who called the request brazen, delusional and mind-boggling.

“Civil rights cases are not get-rich-quick tickets,” the judge wrote. “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.”

Excreta and Lard

His honor slammed counsel for billing in six-minute increments for incoming and outgoing communications – many were for receiving a letter from the client – even if it took only seconds to accomplish the task, and for seeking payment for a court appearance the judge said was necessitated by counsel’s own “inflammatory conduct.”

“The vast majority of [the lawyer’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.”

In denying the fee request, the judge also fined the attorney $25,000 and said he would refer the matter to lawyer disciplinary authorities.

Counsel might have seen this coming.

Just a few weeks earlier, the judge, who presides over Pennsylvania’s Middle District, had come down hard on another attorney with nearly $116,000 in Rule 11 sanctions, for practicing dark legal arts.

In that order, Judge Brann said counsel had kept a meritless case alive by “a sort of litigious necromancy conjured up by … specious filings” and that “this was a case built largely on … posturing, the consistent filing of pleadings, which amounted to nothing more than bluffs that defendants here were not afraid to call.”

Among the colorful characterizations of counsel’s conduct:

· The case was “nothing more than an illusion”

· “Blatant timeliness defects”

· Citations of “random doctrine in a ‘see what sticks’ approach”

· “Littered his papers and left the court and defendants wasting time chasing unavailing leads and tumbling down legal rabbit holes”

The takeaways are self-evident. Keep clear and accurate time records. Know the tendencies of the presiding judge. And above all, don’t practice black magic in court – at least not in Pennsylvania.

Sources:

· Citizens Voice http://citizensvoice.com/news/attorney-s-fee-request-called-brazen-and-delusional-1.2240557

· ABA Journal http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyers_fee_request_felt_like_an_attempted_bank_robbery_federal_judge_says

· Keister v. PPL Corporation http://www.abajournal.com/files/Russo.pdf

· ABA Journal http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/federal_judge_orders_lawyer_to_pay_almost_116k_for_pursuing_baseless_employ

· ABA Journal http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/federal_judge_sanctions_lawyer_for_litigious_necromancy_and_see_what_sticks/

About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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